Sara Black McCulloch is a writer living in Toronto.
1:08 am I realize I fell asleep watching Narcos. I turn off my laptop. The last thing I remember is Pablo Escobar in a field, sucking on his cigarette as he fantasizes about becoming president of Colombia. As his fantasy becomes more vivid to him, he sucks harder and smiles.
7:32 am A soft buzz quickly turns into a siren. I can’t find the snooze button or my phone. I can hear the wind outside and I notice that the sound is crisper: the leaves are drying out. It’s fall. Some days I wake up right away. Some days I have to take it slow. Some days I need to remember where I am.
7: 52 am I’m reading César Aira’s Ghosts. Ghost stories make me uncomfortable in that they put me in touch with this feeling of dread. It’s my reaction to that dread that scares me the most. But Aira is biding time; the ghosts aren’t central to the story yet and no one seems phased by them. I remember when I was reading “The Ghosts of Pickering Trail”, I felt like I was getting close to understanding what this deep-seeded feeling stirred up inside me. I know this because of how often I had to stop reading. I got too close.
8:18 am I kick off the duvet and get ready to convince myself to go to the gym.
9-something am I’m listening to Renata Adler on the Longform podcast on my way to the gym. “Don’t you sometimes feel that you are several people?” she asks. The question isn’t directed at me, but I readily answer yes. She’s trying to figure out which version of herself is more her. She says it’s the non-writer one. The thing I really like about Renata Adler has little to do with her actual writing skill: it’s that she can make distinctions.
9:28 am I get a text from Fariha and it’s a selfie of her in bed. The picture is filled with the soft morning light. No filter, but it looks dreamy. She’s luminous.
10:52 am I’m home from the gym and I pull my clothes off. The fabric is still damp and I’m sticky with sweat.
I know it’s fall because:
-the sun isn’t as bright this time of day
-the wind no longer glides between the leaves
-the steam and the hot water from the shower feel good
-some of my oils are no longer liquid
Before I’m out of the shower, I rub in Monoi oil all over. There’s this hint of jasmine in it that reminds me of a childhood sunscreen.
Before I get dressed, I add a drop of tobacco-vanilla oil on my chest and pulse points. I let some trickle down my back. There are certain parts of my back that are so sensitive to touch and so this ritual is always soothing for me. As the oil winds its way down, I drift off a bit.
11:48 am I dig my head into a turtleneck and catch a whiff of the vanilla. I spray on some Cannabis Santal, pack my bag and make sure I’ve included the keys.
12:22 pm I scan the long line at the bus stop and realize that my bus is running late.
12:37 pm The bus finally pulls up. It’s an articulated bus and it’s still really crowded.
12:53 pm Tracy is at the stop in a bomb leather jacket, cool-red lips (Nars Cruella), and much less hair. (I haven’t seen her in so long.) We walk into an art gallery that is housing the remnants of a stripped jeep and some tires. Picture the worst dystopian novel set in a desert and this is what we’re standing in. There are a bunch of blown-up photos of horses on some of the walls. As Tracy and I stand in silence trying to make some sense. We finally break the silence by admitting to each other that we hate horses. We leave.
1:15 pm We walk into a coffee house on Bloor and order as much ginger as we can from the menu because I’m trying to get over a flu and Tracy is just starting one. When we usually meet, we talk about the kind of people we want to become or grow into—I’m not exactly sure how that happens yet. I know that over the last couple of years, I’ve become the thing I’ve hated. And I find that I can be honest about this and my shortcomings with Tracy. I don’t want a new me or a fresh start because I don’t believe in either. Correction: I don’t believe that real change can be that easy. Instead, I like the way Tracy phrases it for herself: she needs a reset.
There are these other things we both want to do, but currently we feel like we’re sinking. We talk about our old organic chemistry classes and I tell her about this banana oil experiment I had to do. You start off with a concoction that smells like burning, dirty socks and end with banana oil. I can’t remember what the point of the experiment was. I just remember the elation that came after making something so revolting smell so beautiful. I can’t decide if that’s artistic fantasy or ego or both. I remind myself that although the feeling was great, it was only the result of following someone else’s directions.
4:00 pm We decide to walk around because this is probably the last nice day of 2015. Just kidding. Tracy points to this house covered in glistening granite. The way the sun is hitting it the granite looks more pearly than sparkly. We stop to marvel for a bit. I like viewing a city through someone else’s eyes and what really enhances the experience for me is the details the person notices. You get to know how they pay attention.
4:30 pm Back at the coffee shop, Tracy had mentioned how some chemists were genetically engineering roses so they could essentially grow certain scents. She spots some roses in a front yard, so we stop to smell them. The scent from a magenta rose is faint, but there’s this white one off to the side and its scent is intoxicating. The thing about Tracy is that even though language can never get close enough to describing something, she finds a way. She can also parse the different notes of a perfume in ways I never could.
5:15 pm On Queen Street, we stop into Nuit, which now feels like a godsend. There’s a small patio that’s dark and shaded by trees, but lit with tiny lights. It feels secluded and it’s why I instantly love the space. Tracy and I discuss cooking winter dishes for ourselves because the winter months force you to be with yourself so much. I think about how so much of the food I love requires patience and time: marinating, rising, stewing for hours until tender, ripening, and aging. It’s a bit why I stopped cooking properly. I told myself there wasn’t time.
We split a board of lomo, blue cheese coated with wine grapes, fire olives and a lamb shank. A couple of leaves fall on a nearby table.
6:45 pm I hug Tracy goodbye. I feel a headache coming on, so I try to walk home a bit faster. Up along Ossington, there’s a line for ice cream. The sun’s brightness is already dulling. I’ve never been good with seasonal changes because sometimes I feel like they come when nothing in me has changed. Or when I’ve just recalibrated. It’s also become a strange marker for time—or how quickly time goes by. I’m slowly starting to understand that parental adage—“they grow up so fast.”
7:00 pm I start cooking a really simple and flavorful tomato sauce. I send the recipe to Tracy, who earlier today, asked if I knew of any good ones. I keep thinking about these ginger molasses cookies I used to cook with my grandmother. My mother had always wanted to sit my grandparents down and write down all their recipes because they always eyeballed everything so well. They both got sick very suddenly and passed away, and so she never had the chance. It’s difficult trying to recreate a taste you’ve always had made for you and so I’m rarely nostalgic for meals. I get up to stir in more basil and add some mushrooms. In between stirring, I’m reading Lydia Davis on Lucia Berlin. I like Berlin, but don’t like how everyone talks about her like a well-kept secret. I wonder, too, if she would have written differently had her audience widened. I don’t even know if she was aware of an audience while she wrote.
8:05 pm I switch into a man’s cashmere sweater and throw on a small wool jacket. I put on this other podcast that does some really great things with sound. At times it makes me feel like I’m in an echo chamber or like…it’s nice. I walk over to Pamenar to meet Natasha and Vidal, two brilliant and beautiful Libras living in Toronto.
The wind isn’t as strong as I thought it would be. I don’t think time (unlike weather) carries out differently in other cities, but I think that both are subject to your own perception. I might have to rethink that.
8:14 pm I have to unlearn this tendency to ask a question and expect a clean answer. I know better than that, but can’t seem to override the impulse. It’s wired in.
10:59 pm Natasha, Vidal and I are now walking over to Rhum Corner after a couple of whiskey gingers. We’re talking about some weird and vivid dreams we’ve been having. My phone buzzes and Tracy has sent me a recipe for tomato sauce from her cookbook. We have promised to cook for each other soon. I notice that the moon is hovering over the city like it’s tied to strings. Relax, it’s the supermoon—don’t overthink it. As my eyes focus on its eerie glow, some things become a little clearer. Maybe, for just a little bit, I forget where I am and I feel myself smile.