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A Little Extra: Top Picks from Hot Docs 19

Push (2019, d. Fredrik Gertten)

The first film I saw this festival and I was knocked sideways from the start. Push looks at the global housing crisis and follows the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, as she visits cities around the world and investigates why no one can afford to live there anymore. As someone who’s moved from expensive city to expensive city over the past five years, this was an eye-opening look at a problem that is far more widespread than I had realised and with much more complex roots than I could have imagined. 

Midnight Traveler (2019, d. Hassan Fazili)

Midnight Traveler follows director Hassan Fazili and his family as they are forced to seek refuge from Afghanistan after the Taliban places a bounty on his head. Shot entirely on phones by Fazili and his wife, also a filmmaker, this is a brutally honest account of a family on the run, the challenging and often dangerous journey taking them west into Europe. It’s a refugee story but it’s unlike anything else I’ve seen in this vein: the harsh realities of it are no surprise, from the illegal border crossings to the convoluted bureaucracy when they eventually make it to Europe, but the touching family moments bring a uniqueness to this piece. They show a family that is like any other, living through extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The unshakeable optimism of their two young daughters and the harmless bickering of a husband and wife are a beautiful reminder of the universality of family. There is much to take from a film like this in destroying the “us and them” mentality that is often applied to refugees and causes so much harm in its wake.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld (2019, d. Mads Brügger)

It’s hard to know what to say about this film – I’m at as much of a loss for words now as I was when I left the cinema almost two weeks ago. Cold Case Hammarskjöld begins as an investigation of the death of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961 but becomes something else entirely. From the start, you know you’re in for a journey, as Brügger himself stands, clad all in white, addressing a secretary tapping dutifully at a typewriter. Through a six year investigation and numerous dead-ends, Brügger and associates uncover a secret military organisation in South Africa, responsible, if claims are to be believed, not just for Hammarskjöld’s assassination but for an array of other crimes of varying degrees of horror. This isn’t just the most insane documentary I’ve ever seen but probably the most insane film I’ve ever seen, full stop. Brügger’s style is quirky and likely not for everyone but this surprisingly funny and often shocking documentary handled its twists and turns with a clear narrative thread that kept me hooked right to the end. 

Hi, AI (2019, d. Isa Willinger)

Robots are invading your homes! yells every apocalyptic warning for the future, ever. But Hi, AI takes a very different approach to looking at how robot technology will, and already is, playing a role in people’s lives, in a very human kind of way. From entirely automated receptionists to childlike companions for the elderly, this is a beautifully shot and thought-provoking look at the future of this technology. One filmmaker recommended this to me, describing it as “close to a masterpiece” – I’d have to agree.

A complete list of films I saw at Hot Docs 19:

  • Push

  • Midnight Traveller

  • Cold Case Hammarskjöld

  • Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World

  • Assholes: A Theory

  • There Are No Fakes

  • Hi, AI

  • Last Breath

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Suzey IngoldComment
Rolling out the Red Carpet: How to Navigate a Film Festival

When I applied to volunteer with the Edinburgh International Film Festival for the first time, it was with little expectation or design. I’d always loved film but, at that point, I’d never started to imagine it as being something that could become a career for myself. That film festival, the first I’d attended and the first I’d worked, would become the thing that kickstarted so much for me in terms of ambitions for my career, and the successes I’ve had. 

It also opened me up to a whole new world of film: the scope of what is out there, beyond the big-budget Hollywood output that makes it to the mainstream. Independent film is more accessible than ever, between streaming services like Netflix that now distribute and exhibit a large amount of indie titles, to indie titles making it into longer distribution deals with increased exposure through awards nominations and the like. 

Having just capped off my first film festival for 2019, I put my mind to thinking about some tips for approaching a festival for the first time, whether going in as a viewer or as a member of staff. It can be an intimidating environment to step into, from opening the fifty-page programme to navigating ticketing procedures or rush lines. Said festival is also why this is a week late, and with that in mind, check out the accompanying post of my recommended titles out of Hot Docs 2019 over here.

Let’s start with the programme. There are a couple of ways to go about this, depending on the amount of films and how much time you have but I’ll run through my standard method for navigating a film festival programme. I’ll start by skimming through the descriptions of the films, marking the ones that appeal to me, not paying too much attention yet as to when they’re playing. Somewhere in the programme, you’ll find a schedule – welcome to your new best friend. I’ll flick through my choices and mark them on the schedule.

The days pass, the scribbles increase…

The days pass, the scribbles increase…

At this point, you’re going to have some marked off that clash with one another or clash with other things in your life. (Wait, a life? During a film festival? What’s that?) Might as well scratch out any that you are not going to be able to make; hopefully, they’ll play elsewhere in the festival and you can pick up a different screening day. When it comes to clashes, I’ll go back to the descriptions for the relevant films and prioritise which I’d rather see, also keeping an eye on if there are some I could see another day, instead.

As much as I plan out, between working hours and scheduled films, I’ll sometimes end up with slots of time I have open. That’s the time I’ll open up the schedule, see what starts within the next hour, and make a snap choice of something to see. Some of the most unexpectedly great things I’ve seen have been by this method, things I might otherwise never have chosen for myself. 

It’s worth keeping an eye out for any offers or promotions festivals offer. Some festivals will offer free screenings for students at certain times, or two for one offers on day-of screenings, and all should have some kind of system for getting free tickets for their staff and volunteers. Festivals can be expensive so make the most of these but – and I cannot stress this enough – if you really want to see something, don’t wait until the day-of in the hopes of maybe securing a discounted ticket. Things do sell out and no, we’re not going to let you sit on the stairs, no matter how much you argue.

Now, a word on titles. Festivals will typically have a mix of well-known names and anticipated titles with up-and-coming talent and smaller titles. It’s easy to get drawn in by the big titles and the flashy names but, the chances are, it will get a general release date, if it hasn’t been scheduled one already. Sure, if you’re a big fan of someone involved in the film, I’d absolutely encourage going, especially if they’ve confirmed to be in attendance. Getting to participate in a Q&A with your favourite director after seeing their new film a couple of weeks before general release is something special but if it’s a casual interest, don’t waste your time – or your money. 

I don’t regret spending about six times a normal movie ticket price to go to the premiere of Destroyer at TIFF last year because it had Sebastian Stan in it but my love for space and Damien Chazelle was not enough to make me drop that much to see First Man just two weeks before it was out in cinemas.

Transporting red carpets is also a glamorous job, in case you were wondering.

Transporting red carpets is also a glamorous job, in case you were wondering.

This is a double-sided coin, too. There are some titles are film festivals that, once the festival is over, you’ll never be able to find again. I still daydream about the Russian sci-fi epic I saw a few years ago at Edinburgh that now only exists on a handful of second-hand DVDs with German subtitles. Take the unique opportunity you have to see such titles – you might be one of just a couple of hundred people that ever do.

So, you’ve made it to the festival. People mill left and right, lines snake here and there, people in headsets scurry past you with haggard expressions on their faces. You’re overwhelmed. Ticket clutched in one hand, you have no idea where to go. What now? Look for the volunteers. Easily identifiable as the people in the brightly-coloured t-shirts, these are your lifelines once you’re inside. These are the people who will get you where you need to go. There are hundreds of them. Use them. They know things, I promise. And if they don’t know, they’ll find someone who does.

On that note, I beg of you, be nice to film festival staff. I shouldn’t need to say this, for any customer-focused industry, but I will, all the same. The ten-to-twelve days of a film festival are an immensely fast-paced and stressful time for every member of staff; they’re long hours, little sleep, a blur of faces and films and trying to remember what day of the week it is. If I’m telling you that the venue’s not open yet because you’ve shown up five hours early for an in-person event (looking at you, True Blood fans) it’s not open yet. If a film’s sold out, arguing with us won’t make more tickets appear. 

It may sound crazy but we do want to get as many of you in that film screening as we possibly can. It’s not just for you – the more people in seats, the better it looks, the better for the filmmaker. Film festivals are trying desperately to please not just the moviegoers but also the filmmakers and guests to the festival, all for the same reason: we want all of you to come back. 

Edinburgh International Film Festival, 2014.

Edinburgh International Film Festival, 2014.

The nicer you are to us, the more you stand to learn, too. We know the ins and outs of the festival, we know what screenings are more likely to sell out than others, and we are in the unique position of often receiving recommendations from industry professionals who pass us. From film critics to filmmakers, I’ve heard their honest opinions on what I should see and what I can pass on and it’s led to some special discoveries. 

Perhaps most importantly, whether you’re attending or working a film festival, look after yourself. Stay hydrated, remember to eat, remember to sleep (note to self). Our CEO at Edinburgh reminds us this every year at staff training and every year, we laugh. But, really. Do it.

And one final note which applies not just to film festival screenings but to all walks of life that may bring you to being involved in a Q&A session. Q&As are possibly the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever encountered. Without fail, someone will stand up to pose a question that’s not a question at all but a five minute long statement on what they think. Sit down, no one cares. Without fail, someone will stand up to pose a question about that-thing-that-actor-is-best-known-for-but-would-love-to-never-have-to-talk-about-again. Sit down, no one cares. Without fail, someone will stand up to pose a question that’s not a question at all but a ten minute long personal anecdote.

You know what’s coming right? Sit down, no one cares. 

And, if you think I’m joking about that last one, I recently sat in on a Q&A where a woman spent ten minutes telling Viggo Mortensen in a round-about way that he’d once driven her home from a party some twenty years ago. In a Q&A that wasn’t even about Viggo Mortensen but about a film that he was presenting for discussion. That he also wasn’t in.

For the guest, the people around you, and your own dignity – just don’t ask stupid questions.

And, on that note, I’m going to take a nap before I have to do it all over again. See you soon, Edinburgh.

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Suzey IngoldComment
Three Thousand Five Hundred Miles

Some of my earliest memories live within a sprawling, three-storey house in Manchester. I remember idyllic summer days in the jungle of a garden: stealing raspberries from the bush when I was sent to pick them; sneaking into our neighbour’s garden when my brother knocked a tennis ball over for the hundredth time; or, falling off the rope swing. I remember being routinely swung upside down by my older brother when he returned from school and watching Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure so many times that the videotape wore out. I remember hanging around with my brothers and their friends; I remember playing pool in the hallway with a cue far bigger than I was; and sabotaging my brother’s games of Tomb Raider by sending an unsuspecting Lara stumbling into quicksand.

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K. ©  Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure  (1989). MGM.

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K. © Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). MGM.

But, then, my memories shift with our move to Scotland and my memories are that of growing up, for all intents and purposes, as an only child. With thirteen, sixteen, and eighteen year age gaps between me and each of my older brothers, my relationships with them developed more as an adult than as a child. A few years ago, I sat watching Pulp Fiction with my eldest brother – I was twenty-one at the time, he was going on forty. We came to the realisation that it seemed to be the first time in my memory that we had ever hung out, just the two of us. 

However removed during my childhood they may have been, family was already important to me – it seemed a fundamental core of who I was, this slightly bizarre group of people to whom I was connected. 

As I’ve grown older, so my family has continued to grow larger. Shortly after my thirteenth birthday, my first nephew was born, and I began to see my eldest brother more regularly than I had at any time in my life. I’d never really been shy of children but I came to the role of Auntie Suzey with some pride and a fairly high level of dedication for a teenager. Holidays and free weekends through my teenage years and into university would frequently be spent at one brother’s house or another, increasingly with a toddler on one hip.

When I faced the prospect of moving to Canada, one of the biggest stumbling blocks I faced was that of being so far from my family. At that time, I would talk to my mum a few times a week and usually see one family member or another in any given month. A few months living in London meant I spent frequent weekends at my youngest brother’s house, along with his own two children. Children to whom I’ve always felt, as with my oldest nephew, almost like a big sister more than an aunt given the age differences. Thirteen years between me and my youngest brother; thirteen between me and my oldest nephew. Eighteen years between me and my eldest brother; nineteen between me and my niece. 

From being the baby of the family to looking after the babies of the family.

From being the baby of the family to looking after the babies of the family.

In the months before I left, I frequently found myself trying to explain my decision to two important people in my life – my mother and my niece. My mother, convinced I would – in her words – “find a man and never come back” is still frequently concerned with when I’m going to move back. My niece, an alarmingly intelligent for her age five year old, struggled to understand why I had to move quite so far away.

“It’s just something I have to do for me,” I told her, one wobbly afternoon, as she cried in my arms. Alright, fine – as we both cried. “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

“No, I won’t,” she grumbled, just as stubborn as every other member of this family.

While hardly a shocking revelation to me, the full importance of my family to me was something I don’t think I realised until I found myself so many miles away. Over three thousand five hundred miles away, to be precise. While they’re all only a video call away, I frequently feel the presence of the ocean between us, not least when hearing of them spending time together. Christmas passed and I watched over video chat as they sat around a board game, just as I would expect to find them.

As the winter began to tail off, with a sporadic and frustrating work schedule, I was feeling their absence in my life more and more acutely. I priced flights to the U.K. I also priced flights to San Juan in Puerto Rico, but that’s by the by. 

I finally emailed my dad in early March and expressed my desire to visit, suggesting we keep it a surprise from my mum. After sending it, I had a moment of panic: I half-expected him to respond with disappointment or to insist that I would just have to get through it, that it was simply a part of living away from home that I’d have to adapt to.

But his warm heart shone through, as it always does when it is most needed, and he expressed not only his empathetic understanding but also words that stuck with me as I bought return flights to London:

Perhaps the way to think about it positively is to remember that life is ever so much emptier for those who, for whatever reason, have no home to pine for.

This bright spot on the horizon powered me through a few more blisteringly cold Toronto weeks, the promise of seeing my parents, as well as my youngest brother and his children. My mum knew nothing – no small feat for my dad – and neither did my niece or nephew. 

Landing into London felt surreal, and the train from Gatwick to my brother’s house even more so. The landscape was so blindingly familiar and yet so different to the day-to-day life I was now accustomed to. I settled into a pub next to the station, exhausted and a little grotty from a nine hour work shift followed by the overnight flight.

My niece came in first, with my brother. She eyed me as she walked around the table with a high-level of suspicion. My mother walked in next, saw me, and declared: “I knew it!” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes – my mum has an irrefutable need to know everything and I suspected she didn’t know as much as she let on. 

Now that she’d hugged me, thus confirming my identity, I heard my niece whisper to my brother: “is it really Suzey?” The next thing I knew, she was launching herself around the table and into my arms. My nephew, just coming up to three years old, was still slightly too young to understand the concept of a surprise but his beaming smile was welcome enough. 

Although I only spent a few days with my family, it set me at ease. The comfortable warmth of arguing with my mum over my tattoos, or of my niece insisting I read just one more story, or of playing Tomb Raider with my brother. Even walking through the old windy streets felt somehow comforting, particularly with my parents by my side.

Familiarity can be a great comfort – even if it’s just some old buildings.

Familiarity can be a great comfort – even if it’s just some old buildings.

A short visit proved useful in a multitude of ways. The proof that a five day trip was perfectly feasible was useful to have and the vast selection of biscuits I brought home for myself and my Canadian roommate were well-received. It was exactly what I needed.

But, as I walked downtown the day after arriving back to Toronto, with the skyscrapers of the Financial District towering above me, and the cool sun beaming down, I couldn’t help but think to myself how good it felt to be home.

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Suzey IngoldComment
Under Pressure: Playing the Comparison Game

Engagements. Promotions. New jobs, new houses, new cars. It’s not a new phenomenon that your mid-to-late 20s are filled with such announcements from friends near and far – I remember my brother at the age I am now telling me when the barrage of wedding invites began, every weekend another event to attend. 

Those of our closest, we get first-hand. For those further afield, further removed from our current social circles, the news comes to us in different ways. Some of this news we still get the old-fashioned way, passed through the grapevine. Have you heard…? But the difference between how most of this information would have been discovered ten, twenty years ago as compared to today, is that we get everything as it happens, online. Your friend’s cousin’s boyfriend who you met once at a party for five minutes? You now know about the all-expenses work trip he was sent on to Dubai, whether you really cared to or not.

We watch in a seemingly constant cycle as our peers take the next steps in their adult lives. And with every announcement, it’s seemingly impossible not to stop and consider it in comparison to your own life. You watch another friend get engaged and consider the awful first date you went on the week before. You finish filling out another job application as your friend gets promoted. You wonder, the thought a relentless echo in your head, whether you shouldn’t be there already. Whether you’re somehow falling behind or failing by not being there yet.

When you add in a move to another country, you also add new levels of pressure on yourself. The first is the happiness pressure. Back in November, I wrote about the expectation to enjoy oneself all the time when living abroad: as though I should be living in some kind of permanent holiday state, as opposed to the day-to-day grind of normal life that includes the popular mundane tasks of paying bills, grocery shopping and cooking dinner. The idea that if I do not appear to be happy or exhilarated or busy at all times – well, then, why did I move in the first place? Couldn’t I just as well have paid bills, grocery shopped and cooked dinner in the U.K.?

Well, yes, I could have. And I would have had good days and bad days, just as I have here. Every day of your life cannot be good – but there can be something good in every day. And sometimes just the act of waiting at a streetcar stop and catching the CN Tower glimmering high on above can be a good point in my day, however mundane it may seem.

Sometimes, a glimpse of the CN Tower is enough to brighten my day – even on the cloudy ones.

Sometimes, a glimpse of the CN Tower is enough to brighten my day – even on the cloudy ones.

On top of that comes the existing pressures described earlier, further multiplied by having moved. Although not the case for everyone, the move had the effect of throwing me back down the ladder to square one in terms of my career. An unfortunate part of the industry I work in is that a large amount of the opportunity afforded to you is related to who you know – this can certainly work in your favour over time but landing in a fresh landscape means getting in at the bottom level and starting the contact list from scratch. I got a small leg-up very early on thanks to a colleague but it could only take me so far.

The feeling of falling behind has been a persistent stress since my university days. Taking a year out to change my degree meant I graduated a year later than many of my friends. By the time I was stepping out of the academic world, friends had already moved away, been in jobs for a year on a steady salary, or met long-term partners. The six months I spent in a dead-end reception job following graduation didn’t help, every day feeling like another year that I wasn’t achieving anything. Let’s think about that for a moment. I was working full-time forty hour weeks and gaining administrative experience that has actually helped me in gaining future work – but I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything

Toronto has been ripe with beneficial experiences for me. I have a growing contact list and the invaluable benefit of having people starting to get to know me: to understand what I have to offer, and why hiring me is A Good Idea. But for every boost, and for the direction this experience has given me, I have spent countless hours making ends meet through a variety of odd jobs. I’ve served cask ale for almost twelve hours straight, I’ve moved more chairs and tables than I ever want to count, I’ve processed dozens of contracts, and I’ve rolled a lot of posters. I mean, a lot. Over the past few weeks alone, having finished up a three-month contract job in my actual industry, I’ve been bouncing between two different jobs and spending whatever time is left with my head buried in freelance work.

I’m nearly 25 years old and I don’t feel like I have a career. People ask me what I do and I say I work in film and that I’m also a writer. Oh, where do you work? I rub a hand over the back of my neck. The explanation isn’t only long and tedious to repeatedly explain – but it also seems like a disappointing admission compared to how the conversation started out. Even to call myself a writer some days feels like a baldfaced lie: I haven’t published anything in almost two years and my last novel might have been read by a hundred people at best. 

But to put those kind of pressures on myself is to discount all the things I have accomplished at a relatively young age. Years of film festival experience and a managerial position I will return to at a major film festival this summer. Three books under my belt, whether published or not, and a fourth on the go. A degree, volunteering experience, and a head for numbers. And, still, I feel like I’m standing on the first square of the board waiting for my turn to roll the die.

The comparison game has no winners as long as you’re still playing. While I look at a friend and envy their stable job and its professional development, they might look at someone else and wish for their lifestyle, and so on. 

Rather than waste time thinking of all the things I don’t have or haven’t done, why not push that focus onto my goals? The only person I should be competing against is the version of myself I was yesterday, and the day before that, and the one before that. To play anything else is to set myself up to lose a game that doesn’t even exist.

I wrote this post and then came back to it the next day and was struck by the tone. For all that I might have bad days, when it comes to my writing, I strive to be more reflective than pessimistic. Having written this post, I spent the rest of the day in a bit of a bad mood, and it didn’t sit well with me that my own writing had left me in that headspace. It encouraged me to think a bit further and brought me to one more thought that felt relevant to share in regards to this topic.

A few years ago, I wrote down a thought and tacked it up to my mirror in my flat in Edinburgh. It read: be kind to yourself today and every day. This little piece of paper came with me to Toronto and is currently tacked to the mirror in my bedroom. Above, I wrote that the only person I should compete against is myself and while striving to be a better version of yourself is something we can all do, I also think that sets yourself up to be even less kind to yourself than we all are already.

Words to remember: be kind to yourself today and every day.

Words to remember: be kind to yourself today and every day.

So, yes, strive for your goals and to become a better version of yourself than you were yesterday. But also, perhaps more importantly, perhaps more so than anything else: be kind to yourselves, and to one another.

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Suzey IngoldComment
Five Degrees Colder – A Montreal Travel Log

Craving a change of scenery in the midst of the sludge of winter, I planned a long weekend to Montreal. It’s become my default reaction over the years, that when I feel a little out of step with myself or my head needs clearing, I take a trip somewhere. There’s enough to be said about solo travel that it could fill a post in itself but, even if just for a weekend, it can often be restorative to my mind in a way that little else is.

Around this time last year, I took off on a similar foot, hopping the Channel to a spend a weekend in Brussels. Perhaps that venture came to mind, or perhaps I just needed a sight somewhat more familiar, but the promise of the older European-style architecture in Montreal was enough to have me boarding a five hour train north.

Montreal instantly struck me as being one of the strangest places I’d ever seen. Old European cities tend to be split very much into their older and newer parts: the Old Town/New Town divide of Edinburgh, for example, or Stockholm’s Gamla stan, separated from other parts of the city by bridges. Montreal, while emulating a very European style of architecture in many ways, doesn’t conform to this principle. Instead, new and old are chopped together side by side – you just about get a sense of what it might have looked like before, before the new buildings began to be dropped in between like Monopoly pieces.

Chopped together: Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral (opened 1894) and Atrium Le 1000 (built 1992).

Chopped together: Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral (opened 1894) and Atrium Le 1000 (built 1992).

Montreal is, in many ways, a city of conflicts: between the older and newer architecture, with Mount Royal rising in the midst of it all; between the use of French and English that seems to vary so much street to street that I never quite knew which language to use. To turn a corner could feel as though you were walking from one city into another entirely.

Having arrived late and crashed out in my pretty fancy hotel room (this will become relevant later), I took off in search of the Old Town the next morning. I was blessed with a gloriously sunny weekend that took the edge off the persistent chill. Something in the air there is crisper than it is Toronto, and the cold feels that much more bitter against your skin, if only a five degree difference in actual temperature.

After several wrong turns down endless streets, I turned one more corner and stopped still. The street signs a little more rustic, the streets themselves cobbled. It felt delightfully familiar. I visited Notre-Dame Basilica and marvelled at the breathtaking interiors. I lit a candle, as I do in every church I visit – despite not being religious myself, it’s a custom I’ve picked up from my mother. Most of my earliest travel memories involve exploring beautifully old European towns with her by my side.

Inside Notre-Dame Basilica.

Inside Notre-Dame Basilica.

I ate lunch in a quiet cafe on the square before continuing on to the Museum of Fine Arts. I got lost in the permanent collections for a while and finished up at the Alexander Calder exhibit.

I had planned to have a quick rest at the hotel and then go in the search for food. Another thing I’d had recommended to me constantly in the weeks leading up to my trip – of how great the food in Montreal is. Another thing I will have to return for.

Despite the fact that I ended up getting knocked out by the flu and then, shortly after, a busted up ankle, I did manage to make it further yet that weekend. But evenings were largely spent eating bananas in a pile of pillows in my hotel room. I had dithered between booking a nice hotel for a change or just a bunk in a hostel like I often would when travelling. Clearly, I made the right choice this time around.

Ankle aching and unable to breath through my nose, I set off determinedly up Mount Royal. Under the winter sun, children sledged down hills, and cross-country skiers zipped across the pathways. Some snowshoed through the mounds of snow while others, like me, walked penguin-like across the icy paths and hoped for the best. Having taken in the view, I warmed up with a coffee inside the Chalet and then went on an unnecessarily extensive walking tour from Downtown up to Mile End.

Monday, I had planned ahead: a day at Bota Bota, the spa on the river. The hours I spent floating on the water, between scorching steam rooms and soft thermal waters, staring out over the frozen river and the edgings of the port, were the culmination of a weekend that did exactly what I needed it to do. I came away with a clearer head and a more focused and settled feeling in my body.

At last, Monday evening, I made it further than my bed after five o’clock. I enjoyed a custom cocktail at the Cloakroom, a minute space hidden away beside a tailor’s. I got talking to the incredibly talented bartender who, being from near where I am, picked up on my accent immediately. In desperate need of some food by this point, having sustained on a diet of hotel boiled eggs and bananas for several days, I devoured a steak and some light jazz at the Upstairs Jazz Bar. At the point at which I was getting chatted up by a dairy farmer, it felt time to call it a night.

To think that I might not have made it to at least one speakeasy one my trip… Impossible.

To think that I might not have made it to at least one speakeasy one my trip… Impossible.

Seemingly as ever, the trip I took was not necessarily the one I had planned. Usually, however, my plans are derailed more by the likes of eating waffles with members of the U.S. airforce in town squares late at night than by prolonged illnesses and twisted up ankles that I got diagnosed for me over FaceTime by a friend.

Montreal, let’s try again another time. I’ve got a lot more food to eat and at least one more speakeasy to find.

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P.S. Since the turn of the year, my two-week posting streak has gone a bit haywire. In the hopes of getting back into something slightly better than the once-a-month of late, regular posting is now going to be every three weeks. She says, optimistically.

Suzey IngoldComment
A Ten Year Love Affair

The internet has been abuzz with the collective ten-year look back over the first month of the year, an endless parade of frequently entertaining looks at some of 2009’s most awkward styles and trends. Typically made most entertaining by the fact that we all look a lot better now (or, at least by 2019’s standards – give it another ten years and I’m sure we’ll all find new reasons to cringe). 

As it turns out, I seem to have lost most digital copies of photos from 2009 and before in various computer transfers and hard drive malfunctions – what a shame. I can tell you that this was right around the time that I gave up on the red hair I’d been sporting for a couple of years at that time and had my first brush with bleach. The result was a shock of vibrantly orange hair that, if I remember correctly, really did reflect the light with an almighty force. I can’t even curse my rudimentary hair dyeing skills – it did exactly what bleach does. I just didn’t know that yet. 

I don’t think anyone’s missing out on much by not seeing those photos, really. Thinking back on 2009, it’s not that God-awful bleach blonde hair I remember most, it’s the summer I spent in Lapland surrounded by a group of high school students from across Europe. (If asked, some of them might remember the God-awful bleach blonde hair, though. I’d rather not ask).

For a couple of weeks, our thirty-odd person group was all we saw, nestled in a hostel by Lake Inari, only to be visited by the occasional reindeer passing through the yard. Summers in Lapland are something quite special. Within the Arctic Circle, you will be faced with almost endless nights during the winter and, in turn, almost endless days during the height of the summer. Most nights, the sun barely dipped below the horizon, a brief hazy not-quite darkness falling for an hour before the sun began to climb again. 

I don’t recall doing a whole lot of sleeping during that time. Time was an illusion and the nights would roll on: running from the warm sauna to plunge into the freezing cold lake, cooking sausages over a wood fire and swatting away the swarming mosquitos, climbing the slopes to watch where sunset met sunrise. I remember long games of hide and seek across a dozen rooms, muddy games of kubb (a traditional Swedish game that, at its core, involves throwing a bit of wood at other bits of wood and hoping you don’t get hit too hard in the ankles) and one particularly memorable day making hay bales in which I discovered just how bad my allergies are.

Contrary to how it sounds, we weren’t actually just there to mess around in the Lappish countryside for a couple of weeks before being shipped back to our parents, but to participate in an international arts camp.

Now, I’ll level with you. Never in my life – at least up to that point – had I been described as artistic, and certainly not by my mother. My artistic skills were, at best, round blob stick figures and messy sketches, which I would put down both to a lack of skill and a lack of patience. I have slowly, over the years, dabbled in a little drawing and a little more patience definitely produces better results – but I am not an artist, not in the traditional sense.

The primary reason my mother sent me to an arts camp was because arts camp meant not-sports. Teenage Suzey and sports did not mix. Adult Suzey and sports still don’t particularly mix – my hand-eye coordination hasn’t improved much over the years. 

Being at arts camp, I came to realise two things very quickly. Firstly, I was still very much not a traditional artist. Set up with a canvas and some paint brushes in the undergrowth for a while, I produced a landscape painting that might be described as abstract. Secondly, however, and much more importantly, I realised that there was a much broader scope to art than I had necessarily taken the time to consider. 

One day, we were set up in a room with a shoebox, some duct tape, and black paint. 

“Today, we’re going to make our own cameras.” Our instructor for that day would go on to become a mentor to me over several summers – but we’ll get to that.

I stared at the box. Well. Alright, then. Photography was something I knew, really, nothing about. But I’d been taking photos all my life, inspired by my mother and her cupboard stacked high with photo albums going back years and years, and her impressive trust in me that from as early as three years old in Venice when she allowed me to take my very first photo with her camera. At age fifteen, I already had dozens of albums packed with photos, roll after roll of film captured on my clunky little camera. Pictures of family, of friends, of places I’d travelled with my parents. Several dozen, I believe dating back to around 2001, of soft toys arranged in various places in my bedroom. 

Venice, 1997.

Venice, 1997.

Presented with my box, I discovered a love for an art I barely knew existed: the visual arts of photography and film. Me and my box pottered around outside the building. If you’ve ever experienced the joy of having film printed, waiting a week, maybe two, to have what you saw through your viewfinder captured in physical form – it’s nothing compared to having one chance to take a shot, without knowing at all what it will look like until you’re watching it swim into view in a developing tray.

I fell in love with the smell of the darkroom, my eyes adjusting to the low red lights, fingers scrunched up in rubber gloves as I deposited the negative into the next tray. I could have spent all day in there – and, I think I more or less did, using up as many pieces of photo paper that they would spare me, long after everyone else had disappeared off to dinner or other activities. 

I doubt I realised it, then – the significance of that moment in my life going forward. A couple of years’ later, I would attend a second of these camps, and the same instructor would hand me a video camera and gesture to the surroundings of the tiny island we were on.

“Go and make something.”

So, I did. And as I watched it back alongside my campmates, projected on a small screen in that tiny classroom, I fell in love a little more.

Somewhere along the line, I turned what I love into what I do. A ten year love affair sparked in a remote area of Lapland as a teenager somehow became wrapped up in who I am, what I do, and what I aspire to be. 

The joy of having film developed, even if not done myself, is still something I hold dear.  A street in Manhattan, May 2017. 35mm B&W film.

The joy of having film developed, even if not done myself, is still something I hold dear.

A street in Manhattan, May 2017. 35mm B&W film.

I still have that pinhole camera. It’s sitting under the desk in my old, high school bedroom in my parents’ house. If you open it, it still smells faintly of the darkroom chemicals. Amongst the various failed negatives and some other miscellaneous memorabilia from that summer, there’s also the first love letter I ever received, written on an airplane napkin. But that is a story for another day.

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Suzey IngoldComment
Dream a Little Dream

Dream big, kid!

If such words haven’t been spoken to you, you’ve surely heard them in a movie. Isn’t that always the thing? To dream big, wild, beyond your imagination. We all have dreams – we all have dreams like that. The kind where you’re a world-class painter who moonlights as an astronaut. Oh, and on Saturdays, you sometimes head-up a Broadway musical.

People grow and dreams change. Dreams might become more realistic or more achievable as you become an adult and become more aware of where you’re going or what you want from life or, even, just what you might actually be able to achieve.

Or is that even the point? Are dreams something to even be caught? Or are dreams too big to be clasped against our chests and claimed as our own? Are they not meant to be reached but just motivators, something to get us out of bed in the morning, something to inspire us to try the next thing, the bigger thing, the more challenging thing.

As a kid, I had a lot of dreams. I dreamt of being a famous author. I dreamt of being married and having a big family and a nice house. I dreamt of going to space. I dreamt of being a fashion designer.

Suzey in Venice c. 1997(?) was probably just dreaming about eating a big bowl of gelato. Yeah, enjoy that while you can, kid.

Suzey in Venice c. 1997(?) was probably just dreaming about eating a big bowl of gelato. Yeah, enjoy that while you can, kid.

I’m not really a kid anymore. And here’s where we’re at. Famous, I definitely am not, but I am an author. As for the husband and the kids and all that… Well, listen. I’ll get there. But I’m only twenty four and also working on not sending my boyfriend running for the hills in terror. Turns out space is pretty big and scary and although I may have signed up for the mailing list for Richard Branson’s Virgin Intergalactic space tourist programme, I am not a billionaire and likely will never be. And, frankly, as much as I love clothes and I love to shop, I couldn’t draw then and I certainly can’t now.

2014, dreaming of working at TIFF…   Flash forward to 2018? Well,  huh.

2014, dreaming of working at TIFF… Flash forward to 2018? Well, huh.

But none of that means I’ve stopped dreaming. Take film. Working in film was a dream that developed as an adult and it’s a dream that I’m lucky enough to now call my job. Not every day is glamorous – in fact, most days are decidedly not – but I love it. 

But if that was my one dream, my only dream, what would I do next? In my mid-twenties, I can’t very well sit down and sat “I’ve done it now!” 

(And I haven’t, I really haven’t, except that I never specified my dream much beyond “working in film”. Apparently, that can also include making people coffee). 

I like the idea of dreams, though. I like how they sound – a little whimsical, a little soft around the edges. This time of the year, everyone likes to talk of goals and resolutions – words that sound harsh and unforgiving. We all know we’ll break our resolutions, that our goals will defeat us.

But what about dreams? 

So, I’m not making resolutions this year, not really. I’m pursuing dreams. I’ve always dreamed of being able to tap dance, so today I took my first tap dance lesson. I dream of eating nice, home-cooked food, so I’m making a conscious effort to get back into cooking. I dream of travelling to see beautiful places in this beautiful world so I’ve booked a trip. I dream of those I love being happy so I want to do everything I can to be open and loving and kind to those around me and to bring them joy. I dream of finishing this book I’ve been writing for almost two years so I’m going to sit down and actually write, as often as I can.

It is too easy to lock a dream in your head and never allow it to blossom. Oh, it’s just a dream. Make it more tangible, make it something that you can take steps to achieving. 

I’m not the protagonist of a Disney movie, so the chances are that all my dreams will not come true. But I will do what I can to make every day count towards those dreams. To make, if you will, every day just a little more… Dreamy.

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Suzey IngoldComment
2018: The Year I Jumped

A year ago yesterday, I submitted my paperwork for my Canadian visa. A year ago, I was working as a receptionist out of my old university. My days were largely spent arguing with arrogant badminton players or grumbling about Christmas trees (I wish I was joking). A year ago, I felt like I was stuck. I’d been applying for jobs relentlessly in the six months since I’d graduated, to rarely even be afforded a generic rejection letter, let alone a chance to interview. Christmas rolled around and I spent the holiday at my parents’ house, wondering if this was it. If this was life as an adult. Stuck in a dead-end minimum wage job and desperately hoping for something more.

On New Year’s Eve, or thereabouts, my brother told me 2018 was going to be a good year. That he was sure of it. I shrugged. Maybe. Maybe not.

On January 2nd, I was invited to interview for a job in London. On January 10th, within the space of about an hour, I was offered the job and granted my Canadian visa. And, suddenly, having spent six months tearing my hair out over being stuck at a standstill, life was just, well, going.

Now, I’ll quickly add that 2018 was a really rubbish year in a lot of ways. The world has not had a good year. But, more than ever, I think we have to focus on the good, or none of us will ever get out of bed in the morning. And, for me, 2018 was a good year. 2018 was the year I needed, the year I saw the edge of the horizon with the unknown spilling out beyond it, and I jumped.

Sometimes, the only way is up.

Sometimes, the only way is up.

First, to London, quitting my job and moving 400 miles with as many bags as I could carry on the train. Three months that passed in a heartbeat, as I adjusted to being just another body in an impossible sea of people. I entered a stage of my life that I’ve been privileged to continue where people asked me what I did and I replied by saying I worked in film. Perhaps even more literal a reply than I intended, given that many of my days were spent quite literally tangled in the stuff, juggling reels of 35mm in a hip little office space in North East London. 

London, February 2018.

London, February 2018.

I spent evenings wandering down South Bank with my best friend or nestled in the Picturehouse with a glass of wine. I made pancakes with my flatmate and set the smoke alarm off every single time. I went on a few dates, here and there, although nothing really stuck. I spent a week seriously considering the offer to stay in London and continue my life there beyond the initial three months. I had a good job. I had great friends. I had a city at my fingertips that invited me with the promise of all I could want to ever see or do. I had my family just a train ride away, where I could – and often did – spend my weekends making space puzzles with my nephew or taking my niece out for hot chocolate. 

But I knew that Canada was a now-or-never kind of thing. So, I jumped, again.

Back to Edinburgh, first, and a jump of a different kind – an environment I knew and a festival I’d worked in for many years, but now in a new job. A job I admitted only later to my manager that I’d been worried I wasn’t ready for, that would be too much for me. And there were certainly moments in my eighteen hour days with my phone ringing every thirty seconds that I wondered if I’d get through it. But I did, and I loved it.

I called my brother as the festival was winding down and exclaimed to him about how insane it was that this was my job. That I was getting paid to do this thing that I loved to do, working around such interesting and inspiring people. And he laughed and said it wasn’t insane. He was the one, as he often is, to remind me of just how hard I’d worked to get to that role, and that position in the festival. I hadn’t just stumbled into it. I had earned it. And that was almost most confusing of all.

Eighteen hour days are a lot more manageable when you have incredible people around you all day, every day.

Eighteen hour days are a lot more manageable when you have incredible people around you all day, every day.

A summer to relax and reflect and pack. I spent a few weeks in Finland with my family and then stopped over in Stockholm for a few days and practiced my Swedish, a language I’ve been learning for two years. I came back to Scotland to a frantic mother and a looming countdown to my departure date.

As the days ticked closer, I wondered when it might hit. Back in 2014, I’d come just as close to moving to Italy for a year, as part of my studies. Even closer, really, as far as the airport when I ended up not going. In the weeks leading up to that day, I was a shell of myself. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I was irate and short with everyone I came into contact with. By the time I made it to the airport that foggy Saturday morning, my anxiety had wound itself up so tight that I looked and felt physically unwell. 

I didn’t go to Italy and it’s the best decision I ever made. The second best decision I ever made was coming to Canada.

This time around, I was excited. There were things playing on mind, stresses about money and work and finding somewhere to live – these were natural. But that sense of panic, of impending doom, wasn’t there. I got to the airport and I cried saying goodbye to my parents, sure, but I made it through to the airport lounge and starting doing job applications for Toronto. As the plane came into land, I listened to Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way (because sometimes I like to pretend my life is a movie, we’ve all been there) and I was grinning ear-to-ear.

And when I think back on the summer of 2014 and the choice I made to not go to Italy, I don’t think of it as sitting back and letting life pass me by. Because the jump I took to not go to Italy landed me in opportunities I would never have had if I had gone, and have had a direct knock-on effect into the work I am able to do now.

Within one week of being in Toronto, I was on a film shoot. The film festival followed shortly after, and then it was a steady stream of job applications and interviews. It’s only really recently that I’ve settled into somewhat of a routine, with a fairly solid path for my work life mapped out from here until October. Three days a week, I work at one of the biggest film-based organisations in the world. Two or three days a week, I move some tables around at a huge tech organisation. Somewhere in between there, depending on the week, I run around a film set for a weekend and work on my novel.

When I think back on 2018, I am frequently alarmed by how fast it has gone by. But, equally, the amount that has happened over the past twelve months and the amount I’ve been able to fit into that space of time is almost impossible for me to comprehend. 

2018 was the year that I needed. 2018 was the year that I jumped, and didn’t look back.

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Suzey IngoldComment
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Back in the summer when I was preparing to leave for Canada, it was with the intention to be back for Christmas. It would make for a conveniently placed six-month marker, long enough for me to have settled into my life in Toronto but not so long that I wouldn’t go completely crazy in missing my family. Obviously, plans change, and as the fall colours began to spread across the city, a visit in late October became more logical and feasible. I was desperately in need of my array of winter coats and sweaters that were gathering dust in my parents’ house and would be bulky and expensive to send, not to mention the heinous price of flights to the U.K. during the Christmas period. My dad’s 70th birthday happened to coincide with this time of the year, too, and I acknowledged that being there for that would mean more to me and to my family than being there for Christmas.

Because Christmas is just Christmas, right? I’m in my mid-twenties, the magic has all but worn off, topped off with a selection of gifts that tends to verge on the practical. Sure, the food and the warmth and atmosphere were all things I greatly enjoyed but I wouldn’t be missing all that much to spend the holiday somewhere different for a change. 

Is Christmas even Christmas without my mum’s Christmas tablecloth?

Is Christmas even Christmas without my mum’s Christmas tablecloth?

I’m not sure when that feeling began to change for me. Whether it was the moment I landed back into cold, snowy Toronto and realised how the winter stretched ahead of me, or when I stared up at the towering lit-up Christmas tree in Nathan Phillips Square and was reminded of every over-sized tree my dad had brought home over the years, to my mum’s increasing despair. Maybe I felt it in how unsettled I’ve felt over the past week or so, or maybe it was in the moment that I went to see a festival-favourite, Green Book, again, and burst into tears at the family Christmas scene.

Christmas in Toronto

Christmas in Toronto

Whatever it is, it’s hit me over the past week that this will be the first time I spend Christmas without any of my family at all. There’ll be no dancing to Elvis with my dad as we put up the Christmas tree, no putting the bun dough in the sauna to get it to rise, no roll of the eyes from my mum when I request rice pudding on Christmas Eve morning. No traditional Finnish Christmas Eve meal or arguing with my brother over a game of Solar Trader. No hearing the Queen’s speech from the other room as I stack up plates, nursing a food coma drowned in brandy butter.

I thought I was feeling better about it, and this wasn’t the post I intended to write tonight. But then I rejigged another tradition, one that is entirely my own. For several years now, I’ve always taken an evening, Christmas gifts for my family collected together, and sat down to wrap them with Michael Bublé’s Christmas album on in the background and a few candles burning here and there. This year, I put on his album and did some extensive and complicated online shopping, instead – albeit with a spruce tree candle burning on my shelf to make it feel a little more like home.

And then, the song changed.

I’ll be home for Christmas…

And without even meaning for it to happen, I felt the tears spring to my eyes again. I could almost laugh at myself, if only I weren’t so busy sobbing.

I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

I won’t be home for Christmas this year. I don’t know what this Christmas will hold. I have several wonderful offers from some of the wonderful people in my life and, what I do know, is I won’t spend it alone. Which, no matter what you believe or what you celebrate this season, is what I think these cold, dark winter months are all about. 

Take care of yourselves this winter, and of those you love. All the best from me, today and every day.

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Suzey IngoldComment
November is still November

When I first moved to Canada, my family reacted in a variety of different ways. My mother, an incessant worrier, was persistent in her concerns, her questions, her constant tirade of but what if’s? My father, a little more level-headed, was my ally in diverting her attention or at least pulling her out of the way for a little while so I could get on with moving preparations. My brother, perhaps in part of an effort to calm our mother down, pointed out that all I was really doing at this stage was going on an extended holiday.

And August did feel a little like that. September, too, I guess. I definitely had the same accusation thrown at me a few times in the first few weeks by my parents as they queried why I hadn’t yet found a job, or an apartment, and so on and so forth. 

(Despite the fact that I did, actually, pick up a day’s production work within my first week in Toronto, not to mention the ten days I spent running back and forth between two film festivals. Granted, not one of those three jobs paid, but I wasn’t exactly sitting on a beach all day. Or, not every day).

A rare beach day.

A rare beach day.

It’s a funny thing, living abroad like I am, because when asked what brought me here, part of that answer typically involves explaining that I’m on the IEC visa. The what? They ask, if not another Brit/Aussie/Kiwi on the same programme. Two year temporary work visa. Working holiday visa.

Working holiday. It’s an interesting way to phrase it. The lazy days of August and September that I was lucky enough to spend enjoying the last of the summer’s heat, out at Toronto Island until sunset or taking walking tours of downtown or even just the luxury of spending a large portion of my day sitting in a coffee shop with my friends under the pretence of job hunting.

Sunset at Toronto Island, courtesy of our French boy paparazzi.

Sunset at Toronto Island, courtesy of our French boy paparazzi.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when it stopped feeling like I was on holiday. Maybe, when I moved out of the hostel, although even then I was still hopping from sublet to Airbnb for another six weeks. So, maybe, then when I moved into my apartment and was hit with the sudden reality of grocery shopping and – finally, finally – unpacking. Or, maybe, when I worked two eighteen hour days in a row and then collapsed from my aching legs, reeking of cask beer and wood-fire smoke.

Working hard or hardly working?

Working hard or hardly working?

Or, maybe, it was when I returned from my “holiday”, if I can use the word, back to the U.K. When I first arrived in the country, I woke up the next morning with a profound sense of having absolutely no idea what to do next – I was not afforded this luxury again. Arriving in Canada a couple of weeks ago was coming home, as strange as that feels to say. I was waved through immigration with my visa clutched tightly in hand like a shield, picked up by my boyfriend who drove me home, where I immediately had to unpack and stock up on groceries so that I could make it to the first day of a new job the next morning.

I don’t feel jet-lagged at all! I thought with pride on Wednesday morning as I hopped onto the subway to head downtown. And I didn’t. But that’s because the jet-lag hit a couple of days later, followed by a stressful weekend that didn’t help induce sleep any more. 

And, then, I remembered, as I sat on the subway mid-morning on Monday with a perpetual sense of the grumps. 

Oh. Well. It is November. 

Even in Toronto, even in what feels a life so different from where I was this time last year, November is still November. 

Dark, foggy November nights.

Dark, foggy November nights.

And November is truly the worst month. I know a lot of people have it out for January, or even February, and I can’t say I love them, either. But November is, categorically, The Worst™️. It’s dark. It’s cold. Everyone’s sick. Everyone’s tired. Christmas is still just that little bit too far away even though the promise of December and the lights and the atmosphere is on the horizon. And, worst of all, November comes with the impending sense of disappointment at all you said you were going to achieve this year and didn’t. That’s where January and February prevail. Yes, it’s cold and it’s dark and Christmas has passed and there’s seemingly nothing to look forward to until  the days start to get a little longer, but it’s a new year. There is possibility and planning and the opportunity to do all you want to do.

But in November, it’s just a stark reminder of oh, I still haven’t done that thing I said I’d do this year. And now it’s November, and there’s just no time. I tend to feel this most with my creative projects as November coincides with NaNoWriMo. 

(A brief interlude for those not familiar: NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual worldwide project in which people attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, which works out to an average of 1,667 words a day. That is a totally manageable daily word target on an average-to-good writing day. However, as soon as you miss one day, because you’re tired/busy/on a plane/sick/attending a wedding/insert event of your choice, suddenly you need to write over 3,000 words in a day to catch up. And that’s when it gets difficult. Also, there’s just the thing of trying to maintain the level of brain power and motivation required to write every single day for a month which is not something I typically achieve at any other time of the year).

This is my fourth time doing NaNoWriMo. I’ve won twice: once, on a book I started from scratch, as you’re supposed to do; once, with a book I’d already started, using NaNoWriMo as a good way of blasting through a large chunk of a project in a short space of time. I’ve failed once, getting around 30,000 words in and then losing the momentum. That book remains, as yet, unfinished. This year, I’m cheating again, and working on existing project. 

And I was doing so well. I was doing so well. Until I got sick. And then had to take an eight hour flight. And then jet lag. And then starting a new job. And so on, and so forth, and now it’s November 24th (because even this I’m writing a day late which tells you all you need to know) and I have exactly seven days to write just under 25,000 words.

*gulp*

If I get through the month, even if I end up with the word count I have now, I will have made a significant leap in a book I’ve been writing for over a year now (for anyone who knows me, this is unusual. I write most books in a six month binge). But I will still get to the end of the month and think, but wasn’t I going to re-edit that project this year? And wasn’t I going to write that short story this year? And wasn’t I going to enter that contest?

And that’s just thinking about my writing.

But, this year, I’m trying not to let the November blues hit any harder than they have to. Because when I think back on this year, in particular, all I can think is just how much I have achieved. 2018 has been one of the busiest, most chaotic, most challenging, and most rewarding years of my entire life. But that is a story for another day.

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Suzey IngoldComment
To All the Cities I've Loved Before

“You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t.” 

Midnight in Paris (2011)


My love affair with cities began from birth. The quote above is spoken about Paris, a city that – I hesitate to admit – I don’t actually like all that much. But with a few exceptions, it’s rare for me to find a great city that I don’t like (for I won’t argue that Paris isn’t a great city, just that it isn’t the city for me. But that is neither here nor there, really). 

Paris, April 2018. Early morning.

Paris, April 2018. Early morning.

Born into a big city, perhaps it’s in my nature to gravitate to the fast-paced metropolitan buzz of a city, with scores of buildings crammed together and people from every walk of life living side by side against the relentless thrum of city life. It’s true that I remember very little of my early years in Manchester but I have been back enough to know that it is truly a great city.

But it was my first visit to New York City that opened my eyes to what would become the greatest love of my life. That I was already enamoured by the city before I even arrived speaks volumes although with a city like New York, this is not so unusual. New York is the city of cities, the backdrop for countless books, movies, television shows, and of equal importance to any of the physical characters within them. 

My first night in Manhattan, aged thirteen with braces and all, I lay on my stomach by the sloped glass window of our riverside hotel, just across the way from the United Nations building. I gazed at the lit up high rise buildings and I felt the rush of love at first sight. The feeling didn’t lessen in the days to follow – if anything, the opposite, with every honk of a yellow taxicab horn and rush of the subway train passing below. 

I would return to New York several times over the years. A wild four day tour with some girl friends for the sake of a charming young actor and his Broadway debut, my first time in the city without my parents. An entire two weeks spent, alone, undertaking a brief film course and tying in my love of film to my love for the city. Commuting back and forth from my hostel with its ever-changing roommates and pretending, just for a moment, that I was a real New Yorker. And then, again, just last year, with one of my best friends to ring in my twenty-third birthday. 

One night of that most recent trip, me and my friend ended up in Grand Central Station at around one o’clock in the morning on a weekday. Contrary to how most people see the iconic landmark, it was deserted. We walked through the station, our footsteps echoing on the marble, and tears nearly came to my eyes for how special a moment it was. For how I’d always remember it, in this city that I loved.

Grand Central Station, New York, May 2017. Twirling, just because.

Grand Central Station, New York, May 2017. Twirling, just because.

In between these various trips to New York, I moved to Edinburgh for university. A city steeped in its history and grand old architecture. A city that is warm and gentle enough for taking those first steps into adulthood but vibrant enough to feel as though one is truly experiencing life in a city. Festivals came and went, trams were built, and the foundations of my life as it is now grew into place. Of all the cities that I love, Edinburgh is perhaps the one I have the most to be thankful for.

And in all of this, London – ah, London. I had been many times over the course of my childhood and teenage years, before I finally moved there myself. That my brother lived there, too, for some of those visits only warmed me to the city more, as though it didn’t already have enough going for it. For my love of theatre, London was the top dog, not to mention a wealth of shopping the likes of which my bank account resented but my heart adored. 

By the time I finally moved there, a brief three month interlude in what has been an extraordinarily busy year, it felt so familiar as to not incite the typical just-moved panic. I became a Londoner, a Commuter, with a monthly travel card loaded onto my Oyster and a trendy office in Dalston. It came time to say goodbye all too fast but even then, it seemed more of a see you later than a goodbye. I wondered on that when I moved to Toronto but, then, having visited just a few days ago, I am more sure than ever that I will be returning to London one day.

And before Toronto became my home, a quick stopover to my Nordic roots. Helsinki, such a beautiful city that I return to time and time again, that reminds me of summer’s days and eating fresh berries down by the water. Briefly, too, to Stockholm, a city that I had not visited in many years, and a city that I promptly decided I would, too, live in one day – although where I will find all these days, I just don’t know. 

Gamla stan, Stockholm, July 2018. Beautiful architecture of the old town.

Gamla stan, Stockholm, July 2018. Beautiful architecture of the old town.

It is funny, then, to think of what it is that I love. For some of these cities are so very old, like Edinburgh, like Stockholm, and some so very new, like New York, like Toronto. They look so very different but it is the feeling of the city, more than the look, that I seem to fall in love with.

Finally, then, to Toronto, although my love for this particular city I have perhaps gushed already too much. Toronto may well be as close as I get to living in New York but with all the things I love about New York, minus just a little of the overwhelming urgency of the Big Apple. With every day, I find something new to love about Toronto, and so I suspect I will continue to in the months to come.

Some people might be amazed by sculptures or paintings or symphonies. But nothing will ever be as beautiful to me as a really great city.

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Suzey IngoldComment
There's no place like home

Home has always been somewhat of a complicated concept for me – at least, it’s never been particularly obvious when I’m talking to someone exactly where I’m referring to when I mention “home”. While I was at university, living in Edinburgh, I might talk about “going home” which meant going to see my parents in Aberdeen but then, in turn, would say to them that I was “going home”, back to Edinburgh, whatever coming day. While working and living in London, I’d frequently visit my niece and nephew, kissing them goodbye at the end of the evening and telling them I couldn’t stay over the night because I had to go home. Every time I visit Finland, I talk about going home, even though I’ve never lived there nor do I have a permanent address there. 

Going back to Finland each year always comes with a welcome sense of familiarity

Going back to Finland each year always comes with a welcome sense of familiarity

And now, it seems to have become all the more convoluted. On Wednesday night, I flew back to the U.K. for the first time since moving out to Canada, for a pre-Christmas family visit to avoid the heinous festive flight prices.

“I’m so excited to go home,” I said to my friend as I drummed my fingers off my laptop, waiting for online check-in to open.

“But this is your home,” she protested with a very characteristically-her pout.

And she’s not wrong. I have an apartment in Toronto now, an apartment that, as of Monday, actually has a bed and a rug and some shelves. I have not one, but two jobs to go back to in the city, not to mention any other projects that might crop up in the coming weeks when I return. I have friends there, a boyfriend, a favourite coffee shop, an annual transit pass, and local supermarket.

I don’t know exactly what it is about a place that makes it a home or not a home. I continue to describe myself as being from Manchester even though I left when I was five years old and I barely know my way around. Aberdeen never really felt like home, in part for having always been the English girl in the Scottish town and in part for the fact that my brothers (more or less) never lived there with me, but the familiarity of my parents’ house is always a welcome warmth. Edinburgh became a home as a mark of the beginning of my adult life but a desire to leave came from it very much being the locale of my student experience and student life. London, I’m not sure quite entrenched itself in me enough to be a home. 

Brb, Googling the definition of “home”… Instead of just looking out at Edinburgh behind me © Janine McMeekin

Brb, Googling the definition of “home”… Instead of just looking out at Edinburgh behind me © Janine McMeekin

And if you bring my accent into it? Well, you’d be hard-pushed to figure out where I’m from, with my bizarre mix-mash Edinburgh lilt with something a little English, that has long been mistaken for Canadian or American – now with a few genuine Canadian-isms slipping into the midst.

Toronto is fast growing on me and the two months I’ve spent there feel far longer than they actually are. But that’s not to say that I haven’t missed my other home (or, one of my other homes, perhaps I should say). Stepping through the doors of Glasgow airport yesterday morning, it was the smell of the Scottish air that hit me first – the fresh, early morning breeze as a flurry of familiar accents passed me by. And for all that being here is lovely, I quickly came to realise that my earlier suspicions were true – it was not the place I was sick for, but the people.

It’s no secret that I’m close with my family and for the first time in my entire life, I was not a handy two hours away from at least one member of my immediate family. I’m lucky to live in an age where communication is easy and accessible and a five hour time difference isn’t impossible to navigate, if sometimes a little challenging. In a lot of ways, as much as I miss them, it’s easier being away from my friends – we’re more used to living scattered across counties and, often, too, continents, and keeping in frequent contact through messages and occasional video chat. 

Living away from home, if I can use the word, quickly becomes a measure of the things you value. I didn’t need to be told of how much I loved my family but the stark reminder of the role they play in my life and the connection I have to them has taken me aback a little. 

I spent some time over the summer with my brother and his family in Finland, a trip that frequently included car trips taken to the Moana soundtrack. More than once, myself, my brother and my sister-in-law ended up in tears, while my nephew promptly fell asleep and my niece sang along wholeheartedly, nothing but bemused as to why the grown-up contingent were having a collective emotional breakdown on the way to the supermarket. For myself, about to leave for Canada, the idea of being torn between what you know and those with whom you’re bonded and the adventurous lure of something different and challenging just beyond the horizon hit close to home (if you’ll pardon the phrase). But, as difficult as it can feel at times, as though you’re being pulled in two different directions, it’s just as my sister-in-law said to me recently: you know your way home.

I don’t know quite where my red sparkly slippers would take me if I clicked my heels together and chanted “there’s no place like home” but I can bet that my family would be there – and there’ll always be there, when I need to come home for a bit.

But with all that said… I’ve been home for about a day and, I’ve got to say – I miss Toronto, too.

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Suzey IngoldComment
A brief interlude... Top picks from TIFF18

In a brief tangent from the more personal, and occasionally heavy, blogposts to date, I thought I’d skip back a few weeks to the Toronto International Film Festival and highlight my top picks from TIFF18. Partly, to break things up a bit; partly, because TIFF ended nearly a month ago and I haven’t talked about it at all; and partly, because it’s pretty late on the night I should post this and I’m very aware that I have to be up in six-odd hours to head to set for the day.

Reading that paragraph back, I’m taken by how surreal my life is these days. But, that’s a post for another day.

Despite what it looks like, I did actually make it to bed before 3am  far  more often than I did at EIFF18…

Despite what it looks like, I did actually make it to bed before 3am far more often than I did at EIFF18…

So, in no particular order…

Green Book

Let’s start with the obvious first. If you’re outside of the film circuit, the chances are you haven’t heard of Green Book yet – but, trust me, you’re about to hear about it constantly. Green Book is this year’s Three Billboards, the year before’s Moonlight, a visually stunning recounting of the true story of an Italian-American hired to drive an African American pianist on a tour through the deep south in the 1960s. Striking that perfect balance between comedic and heart-wrenching, with spot-on performances all round, and a soundtrack that’ll have the nostalgic (like myself) within the first ten minutes, Green Book was the unexpected stand-out for TIFF18, winning the People’s Choice Award. It was not a film that was on my radar at all pre-festival and slowly during the festival, I began to hear more and more about it – everyone who saw it seemed to love it, seemed to be unable even to describe it. From the description and what I’d heard, what I actually saw on screen was not what I expected, and I was continuously surprised and delighted throughout the film. No matter your tastes, this is a must-see.

The Hummingbird Project

Another film I’d heard nothing about prior to the festival and one I found entirely by chance, in a what film can I fit in this morning? kind of way. Two cousins working on Wall Street hatch up a plan to build a pipeline from Kansas to New York to transfer stock prices faster than anyone else. It’s The Big Short that tackles the number-side a little better and also holds a human aspect that the predecessor lacked. Jesse Eisenberg is, as usual, Jesse Eisenberg (but he does it so well) while Alexander Skårsgard gives, arguably, the best performance of his career so far.

The Hate U Give

Another obvious choice although this was an eagerly anticipated film adaption of the incredible YA novel by Angie Thomas. With any adaptation, the worry is whether it will live up to the book and The Hate U Give does and more – having read the book before, I think the film is, in fact, even more powerful. Amandla Stenberg gives a breathtaking performance in the lead role that deftly tackles issues such as police brutality in America today and cultural appropriation among teens. This film pulls no punches, nor should it. Forget the YA stamp, this film (and its original book) are a must for all audiences.

I’ll also give an honourable mention to Destroyer which was a highlight of the festival for me, if not entirely for the film, but for the opportunity to listen to one of my absolute favourite actors, Sebastian Stan, talk about the film and a little of his career. (I also walked past him in a hallway and then proceeded to text my friends back home in very inarticulate capital letters but that’s not a story for here).

And, as for those I missed?

  • First Man – wasn’t a priority for me at TIFF, as I knew a wide release was imminent within a month, but Ryan Gosling plus space? It’s already a winner for me.

  • Hotel Mumbai – for various reasons, I saw about twenty minutes from near the start of this film and no more but what I saw was fantastic, and I eagerly anticipate the day I can get around to the other eighty-odd. I had a vague plan to rush line it nearer the end of the festival but then I ended up on a patio on the west side drinking wine, so… That was that.

  • Beautiful Boy – I did attempt to rush line this, but so did a few dozen Timothée Chalamet fans. Go figure.

  • A Million Little Pieces – had every intention to go but woke up at 7am and couldn’t face a film about a drug addict so early in the day

  • Papi Chulo – again, early morning, day after aforementioned wine… Oops.



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For reference, a complete list of the films I saw:

  • Kursk

  • Woman at War

  • Greta

  • The Hummingbird Project

  • Destroyer

  • The Hate U Give

  • The Wedding Guest

  • Colette

  • Viper Club

  • Green Book

Suzey IngoldComment
The axiom of happiness

Just over a year ago, I had a really great conversation with a sort of well-known actor about mental health and working in the creative industry. I was dressed as a pirate at the time for reasons that are not particularly relevant and working out of the theatre that he was currently performing in, and the conversation came about in response to me having seen his play a few days before. It’s a conversation I think I will remember for some time, not because of who he was or how our paths had come to cross, but because of the feeling that you get when someone truly understands what you are saying.

We were discussing how busy a few weeks it had been for both of us in our respective jobs and he asked me how I was feeling about it all being over in a few days’ time.

“Kind of terrified,” I answered, honestly, because the nature of our conversation was not such that I needed to be anything other than completely honest. “I mean, it’ll be nice to have a bit of a rest but…”

“But having nothing to do is much worse than being busy,” he finished for me.

And that was exactly it. Being busy is to not be left to your thoughts and your fears and your anxieties. Being busy is to go from one moment to the next and process as you go and not have time to overanalyse, overthink, to unravel into the infinite world of but what if…?

It’s a fear I’m sure I’ve tried to express before but, standing before me, it seemed as though he didn’t just get what I was saying but that he empathetically understood the exact feeling I get when, having been busy for an extended period of time (as I often am), I am suddenly left with nowhere to be and nothing to do.

(That’s a paradox in itself. There is always something I could be doing – at any given time, I likely have anywhere between one and five projects on the go that patiently await my attention often for stretches of months or years, but the self-motivation required to do, say, three hours of freelance work as opposed to turning up to your scheduled shift is a very different thing. That’s the short version, anyway).

Our lives today are, by most accounts, more chaotic and busy than ever. Most working-age adults across the world, particularly those living in metropolitan areas, will spend most of their time ricocheting in an endless, impossible loop between work, friends, significant others, family – God forbid they have time to go to the gym or the cinema or pursue any other hobbies they may have. And so comes the time when every working-age adult mutters the words, “I need a holiday”, and off they go to a sun-drenched beach to bask under a parasol with a cocktail in hand. Maybe they’ll actually finish reading that book they got for Christmas last year, or try out that sport they’ve always wanted to do, or visit that far-flung country they’ve always dreamed of going to.

The axiom of happiness1, in our busy lives, is to stop. To do nothing. To forgo responsibility and schedule for a languid few days or weeks of unplanned spontaneity.

For me, nothing is more frightening than an empty calendar – that’s just the way I’m built. I blame my father for this, I think. After years of accusing him of being a workaholic, I am very quickly realising that I am cut from the very same cloth. Were I in an industry where I might stay in the same job for twenty, thirty years, I would likely grow into exactly the kind of man my father is and the older I get, the harder I find to begrudge him for his work ethic that angered me so much when I was a child.

In the search for an apartment2, I’ve been asked more than once about my interests, my hobbies, what I like to do. I rattle off my standard response: movies, writing, reading. It was only when someone asked me, “okay, but what about hobbies not related to your work?” that I realised that I am in the position where what I like to do and what I (sometimes) get paid to do fall into the same general space. Which makes me very fortunate but also very aware that I have to find ways to unwind that don’t involve working and claiming it as down-time. As we’ve already established, doing nothing at all is not an option for me.

Keepin’ busy… Sitting on things I probably shouldn’t and that © Sara May

Keepin’ busy… Sitting on things I probably shouldn’t and that © Sara May

All that is to say that the last week or so has been a little rough on me and my mental wellbeing3. In the wake of working two film festivals, I was left with a gapingly large hole in my calendar of nothing to do. In the past, I’ve been known to fill such gaps with my catchphrase, “I think I might take a trip somewhere”. But common sense and my bank balance won that argument this time around.

And so, job applications, and interviews, and writing, and filling as many evenings as possible with the collection of friends I’ve acquired across the city. But that hole is still there. It eats at my stomach and seeps into my dreams and some days, it’s a little too much.

Today is one of those days. A day where even leaving the house was a monumental effort in itself, where human interaction feels like a marathon. I handled this the best way I could. I cancelled my evening plans4, settled myself into a coffee shop downtown and wrote for a few hours.

And I feel a little better. I gave myself a purpose and maybe that is my axiom of happiness. In the face of an empty schedule, maybe all I can do is take each day as it comes and look forward to the next. 

After all, in six months I’ll likely be working eighteen hour days again and thinking wistfully on the days I was complaining about snoozing until midday.

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1 I don’t know if this the proper use of axiom. All I know is, I reread Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life recently which talks about the axiom of equality and I decided I quite liked the word. I’m trying it out.

2 This week’s good news – I found an apartment! More on that next time.

3 I don’t always take over five hundred words to get to the point but, when I do, I really go for it.

4 Apologies to the very sweet boy I bailed on – if you’re reading this, I told you I was sick, and it’s sort of true, but what’s certainly true is that I’ll make it up to you.

	



Suzey IngoldComment
A place to call home?

It doesn’t hit me until I’m standing in the hallway of a three-story, five-bed house in the Annex, flanked by an assortment of the house’s current roommates and two other twenty-something girls. These girls could be my twins, except they have one thing I don’t – a Canadian credit score.

And so it begins. That’s hurdle number one and, in all honesty, maybe not even the largest in the veritable Hunger Games that is the search for a rental in Toronto. I have memories of flat hunting back in the U.K. and none come even close to the time, energy, and money that I’ve already put into trying to find somewhere to live. (Spoiler alert: I’m still looking.) I remember piling into a taxi on a bitterly windy day in Edinburgh, some five and a half years ago, the three of us making frantic calls to parents as we raced down to the letting agent to sign the documents for our first flat. I remember the process being somewhat tedious and competitive, sure, but nothing like here. Or maybe it just seems easier in hindsight, cast with the favourable glow of times gone by.

Some days, I see one place. Some days, I see three. I see basements and high-rises, I see condos and beautiful little houses on leafy green streets. On average, I spend about forty minutes getting to and from one viewing. Of that, I’m inside the apartment for maybe five minutes – occasionally a little longer, much often less. I see good places and I see bad places. I see places that look like they’re owned by the Addams family. I see places I fall in love with straight away and suffer the heartbreak as heavy as any when I don’t get it. I construct Ikea flatpack in my mind as I fall asleep and think longingly of the day I can actually unpack.

I learn a few things along the way. I learn how to get rid of potential flatmates who want me to lie to their parents. I learn that “420 friendly” means “everything in this house smells of weed”. I learn that a den is a nice word for a walk-in wardrobe with a curtain that’s going for $1000 a month (plus utilities, of course). I become skeptical of anything that’s below $600 a month. I learn what areas to avoid and to search every address on the bed bug reporting website. 

I’m exhausted.

And then, comes a breakthrough. A thirteenth floor one bedroom, available for the whole of September. I cross my fingers and, a few days later, it’s mine. And I can breathe a little. 

Moving on up – bye, bye lovely HI Toronto 👋🏼

Moving on up – bye, bye lovely HI Toronto 👋🏼

I move out of the hostel. I have a night to fill before I can get my keys and Toronto is full to the brim – incoming students, Labour Day weekend, whatever it might be. I book an Airbnb and deposit the majority of my stuff with a generous friend in the city. (Note: this will become important.)

I pick up the keys to the Airbnb from friendly door-staff and trek up stairs with a few, smaller bags in tow. I’m already sweating from my cab ride across town and my backpack is etching marks into my shoulders. I turn the key in the lock and push the door.

Nothing.

I try again. And again. And again. My hands are raw and the key won’t budge any further. The building staff take a look. The super takes a look. The maintenance guy takes a look.

“Going to need a locksmith for that,” he says with a shrug. “Sometimes, they just go.”

I sit in an empty hallway for a while and stare at the wall. 

Okay.

Back downstairs, deposit the keys, text my host. (You see now, why it’s so important that I dropped most of my things with a friend?) Find a coffee shop, find a hotel. But every coffee shop in the near vicinity is filled to the brim with cosplay-clad figures for the Fan Expo nearby.

Right.

Onto the streetcar, back to the hostel. At least there’s wifi, there’s a seat for me for as long as I need it. Every hostel booked. Airbnb promptly shuttles me over a refund and an offer to help me find somewhere new. 

F*ck it.

I book myself into the cheapest available hotel for that night – which just happens to be right around the corner and one of the fanciest hotels in the city. It’s 1pm. Check-in is at 2pm. I smile. I reckon I deserve this one.

(In a few weeks’ time, I’ll look at my credit card statement and wince, but what’s done is done.)

A decadent night at the King Edward

A decadent night at the King Edward

I treat myself to a bubble bath, a glass of red wine, and starfish across a king-size bed in a monogrammed bathrobe. For a moment, I’ll pretend – just until the morning when I drag my bags over marbled floors and out of the hotel, scuffed trainers squeaking on the splendour. The staff don’t comment – I suspect they’ve decided I’d done an abrupt runner on a poorer-half, and I’m happy to leave them to their assumptions.

And so, up, up, up, to my thirteenth floor. I push past the part of my brain that wants to scream about the unlucky number. It’s a bed, and a home, with a kitchen and a bathroom that is entirely mine, for the next four weeks. I unpack, I buy groceries, I stare out over the skyline as night falls and the lights of the CN Tower etch into the darkness.

Apartment #1

Apartment #1

That was two weeks ago. In another two weeks, I’ll once again have nowhere to live. I’m exhausted. I’m disheartened. I think, more than once, whether this was all a mistake. But my body roots itself into the ground and disagrees. Difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Difficult means you keep going. And with every day, this city feels more and more like home, roots sinking in between the concrete and weaving into the fabric of the land. 

I couldn’t leave you so soon © Sara May

I couldn’t leave you so soon © Sara May

On Monday, I’ll have been here a month. It feels so much longer, every week stretching for months in my mind. I sit, tonight, a soft breeze coming in through the window into the stagnant heat of my bedroom. The CN Tower glows a reassuring blue in the distance, the shapes of the financial district spreading off to the east. Down below, closer by, I see figures in windows, I see cyclists zipping through dark streets under the cover of the trees. 

The flatpack will have to wait. The photos I brought from home remain tucked in an envelope in a drawer. Home is much more than four walls, anyway.

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Suzey IngoldComment
Started from the bottom now I’m here (and back again): the first week

FRIDAY AM

Don’t know how to feel. Tossed and turned most of last night – not sure if nerves or excitement or both. Mildly nauseous as we hurtle through windy roads outside of Glasgow towards the airport, but that could be the full Scottish. Say goodbye to parents before security. Dad in tears, mum in tears. I’m in tears. Get some real funny looks off the security officer. “Cheer up, love,” he consoles. “Any liquids?” 

FRIDAY PM

Glance out of the window somewhere over Greenland and am amazed at the sight below me. Never seen it so clear – giant dark mountains with razor-sharp edges, icy rivers of water winding between. It’s almost too bright to stare for long but I hold the view as long as it lasts. Land into Toronto Pearson (only a little late) with Fleetwood Mac blasting into my ears. You can go your own way. Can’t knock the grin on my face.

Grin fades when I see the size of the immigration line. Start to panic – what if I’ve forgotten something? What if they send me home? Everyone ahead of me sees to have a binder full of their entire life histories. I have four pieces of paper. By the time I reach the front of the line, most of the panic has been overtaken in my brain by persistent backache and mild dehydration. Work permit in one hand, passport in the other, I go on a hunt for my luggage which has ended up in a quiet corner of reclaim during the two hours I’ve been in immigration. ‘Bout time, they seem to say. I kiss goodbye to a handful of cash and opt for a taxi. The rain doesn’t dampen the view coming into the city, the CN Tower rising above the skyline as we hurtle down the Express. Mentally revise my earlier plan to learn to drive in Toronto.

SATURDAY AM

I wake up early, predictably. Laze around a while and then take a walk around the block. My feet slow on the junction of Yonge and Queen. My head turned up to the skyscrapers, I swallow. Made it here. Now what?

SATURDAY PM

Have struck up a fast friendship with one of my roommates, recently moved to Toronto from Vancouver. We end up in a British-themed pub for dinner but I don’t mind – the company’s nice. We commiserate over the rental market in downtown Toronto and manage not to get lost. Feels like an accomplishment.

SUNDAY AM

Meet a friend from university for brunch. Toronto feels friendly at the best of times, but no more so than sitting across from someone I know so well in a place that is, as yet, unfamiliar to me. We walk down the middle of Bloor, pedestrianised for part of the day, and I smile. I may be a little lost here yet – but there’s nowhere I’d rather get lost than Toronto.

Bloor and Bedford (18/8/19)

Bloor and Bedford (18/8/19)

SUNDAY PM

Despite previous night’s conversation, have my first real experience of just how tough finding a room in this city is. Attend a busy house viewing and realise I don’t stand a chance, not least without a credit score or a job. Gulp. Go to bed with a headache.

MONDAY

Clock out from responsibilities for the day. It’s cloudy but the beach is pleasant – predatory seagulls aside. Meet roommate for dinner and am again grateful to have someone in the same boat as me.

TUESDAY

Remind self to get on with adult responsibilities. Make an appointment at the bank and get a social insurance number. Tick, tick. Reward self with over-priced fresh orange juice from the mall. Free dinner at the hostel and lose spectacularly at trivia night. Half a bottle of wine later and have booked tickets to see Drake tomorrow with roommate. 

WEDNESDAY AM

Don’t regret the tickets – we’re excited all day. Makes bank trip and other errands more bearable. Crash out mid-afternoon and watch videos of Justin Trudeau for a while. FaceTime with my family and feel my heart swell. Even so far away, they feel close – it’s comforting. “I can smell her perfume,” says my niece, leaning close to the screen. Heart bursts into a million pieces. 

WEDNESDAY PM

Rock up to a volunteer induction meeting in full glam ready for the show later. They’re a friendly bunch and no one questions it. The movie theatre is old-school and nostalgic in the best way and I instantly feel at home. Meet roommate outside Scotiabank Arena. Drake puts on a show – O barely blink for two hours between the production value and the energy the man himself exerts, bounding this way and that across the stage without missing a beat. Seems fitting to see him here, now, like this. “This is how the world should be,” he says of Toronto. Only been here five days, but I agree. He says to love those we came out to the show with, be they family or a best friend. Roommate and I scream and hug each other. Only known each other five days, but we agree. 

Drake @ Scotiabank Arena (18/08/22)

Drake @ Scotiabank Arena (18/08/22)

Think a lot over the coming days about why I chose to move. It’s a question I’ve had a lot since I got here, frequently from locals. For a change of scenery, I say. For work and the opportunities I can get out here. By chance – applying for the visa wasn’t a mediated decision, it was just taking a chance on something. Sometimes I add, with a light laugh, “well, the U.K.’s kind of on fire right now so I thought I’d leave them to it for a while.” I laugh but it’s not exactly untrue. 

But my head’s not there as we head out of the arena – I’m too busy thinking about the fact that I saw Drake in the very city where he started. We buy t-shirts (of course) and set up a photoshoot in the hostel kitchen (of course). We eat cookies until one o’clock in the morning and call it a night.

Post-Drake photoshoot

Post-Drake photoshoot

THURSDAY

Sleep in. Trek around the city to view more apartments. No luck yet. 

FRIDAY AM

Rest of the hostel room is up and about and off by mid-morning. Roommate and I set up in our bunks, half-working, half-watching Youtube. Pull ourselves outside for lunch and return to our bunks.

FRIDAY PM

Our room bathroom isn’t equipped for three of us trying to get ready at once. We laugh, working around each other, eyeshadow and straighteners and perfume flying this way and that. Pile into a cab – me, roommate and a girl from our dorm who’s just visiting. Didn’t even know what Hawaiian food was until tonight but it’s incredible. We sip cocktails out of coconuts but we don’t need to pretend we’re on a tropical beach – Toronto’s enough for us. Back towards the east to Drake One Fifty. A few drinks down and we’re ready for late night truffle butter fries. Cram into the photobooth before we leave and then it’s out into the Toronto night.

I look up at the skyscrapers as we walk east on King. “All my life, I’ve dreamed of living in a city with buildings like this,” I admit. It’s only been a week. It feels much longer and yet it’s so little time. The city is already such a huge part of me. It’s a city that makes you want to fight to stay, even at the hardest times.

Toronto at night (18/08/17)

Toronto at night (18/08/17)

SATURDAY

The inevitable slump. Roommate heads back west to wait out paperwork processing. Dorm is quiet without her. It’s overcast but humid and sticky as I head this way and that to more viewings. Find a great room and don’t get it. Lovely dinner with another friend from university but late nights and stress have caught up to me. End up curled into the corner of one of the public washroom cubicles on the third floor silently screaming and staving off a panic attack. In six days, I’d have nowhere to live. Friends back home all asleep or drunk, can’t call them. Can’t let parents worry. Calm self down after a time and hike back up to the ninth floor. Curl up into my bunk and force myself to sleep. Booked a shoot tomorrow – it’ll be good to get back to work, if only for the distraction.  

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Suzey IngoldComment