Beyond the Grain

saint john

The art affected me almost instantly. We went to the gallery to support Adrienne, a Toronto-based artist who was exhibiting the work she completed after spending a few months in Syracuse, New York. She left to take part in the artist residency program and came back with a large body of work, most were pieces painted on wood bearing feminist and lesbian messaging, the lines in some designed to look like vaginas. Some of the pieces were colourful and abstract, while others were subdued and sad, exuding a feeling of loneliness and loss.

It was the latter that inspired us to buy a piece, our first real art. As we stood in the gallery two summers ago tipsy off complimentary wine, another friend offered to give us a tour. She was familiar with the work and had a way of describing the paintings in a manner that made you fall in love with each one. Not that the work wasn’t great in and of itself, but the stories played a quintessential role in our decision to buy the art. There were these intricate details behind each of the works that resonated deep within me. Story after story, I felt myself admiring each piece in a new way.

But when we came to the one we would buy something stopped both of us. The piece contains five pieces of wood, each one found somewhere in Syracuse, assembled in such a fashion to create one larger work. At first glance, all you see if the five pieces of wood, but upon further inspection it is clear the grain is actually painted on and stained. It is a work of five paintings of wood, painted on wood, against the grain. It is an illusion and a lie. It is control and chaos. It is beautiful and dark. It is haunting.

I loved it before I knew the story, but I loved it after I knew the story more. Adrienne felt a deep isolation in Syracuse. A college town, she was there on off months when almost everything was closed and no one was around. The town, my friend described, was broken and lonely, a series of abandoned homes with nobody to love them. Adrienne was staying in a room in a house that was shoddy at best. One night, she noticed a perplexing repair. It was painted wood, maybe along a floorboard, but whoever painted it had done so against the grain. Adrienne couldn’t understand why someone would do that; make such an obvious mistake. She felt like it summed up her trip perfectly.

TJ and I had just returned from a trip our selves. We had left Toronto for Saint John, New Brunswick in a hurry upon news that a dear friend of mine had been in a horrible accident. The ATV she was a passenger on had flipped and landed on top of her, crushing her beneath it. She was alive, but the accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. When I heard the news I was devastated. I could not stop crying and I called everyone in tears, TJ, my mother. It was hard for me to breathe. Shyla and I had been friends since middle school and she was like a sister to me. I felt like I was mourning her. I felt like she was dead. The news hit me so hard I had to keep reminding myself that she was alive.

Seeing her meant going to Saint John, a town that sounds to be much like Syracuse. On the way to New Brunswick we got delayed at the airport in Montreal. I cried into TJ’s lap for what felt like hours, devastated that we would arrive in Saint John too late to visit Shyla in the hospital. I hated the airline. I hated the feeling I felt in my stomach, this horrible knot of despair that turned and coiled until I felt so sick inside I thought I could die.

By the time we made it to Saint John it was pouring rain and midnight. The cab driver asked what we were doing in town and when we told him, he already knew of the accident. It had been all over the news. The scenario of seeing her in the hospital played out in my head over and over like a broken film reel with missing frames. The emotions were so strong they overrode the images. I couldn’t see her smiling in my visions. I couldn’t see me smiling in my visions. I saw only unparalleled sadness. I felt this sense of complete and utter loss even though she was alive.

Visiting hours were over and so TJ and I had little else to do but waste time in Saint John until we could see her in the morning. We grabbed an umbrella and decided to check out area. It was so late and we were exhausted, but we thought we’d better grab a drink somewhere down by the water and experience a taste of the town while we were there. We were also hungry, but nothing was open. Saint John is a port town, a place for cruise ships to stop through. But it felt like a ghost town, the rain sinking inside our bones and forcing us to confront the shiver we felt inside.

We weren’t able to see Shyla in the morning. She had a rough night and barely slept, finally resting her eyes some time after the sun had come up. So TJ and I decided to explore Saint John in the daytime. Even in the sunlight, the town felt desperate. The buildings and houses were so old and evidence of a fire that wiped out half the town many years before still remained. Nobody was around. In a coin and collectibles shop, old men talked about wars of the past. We walked down streets that were so empty we could hear our footsteps on concrete. It was a place without many sounds. As a city girl used to the noise of the streets, the silence disturbed me. I don’t remember hearing any birds.

When we finally saw Shyla, the experience was hardly the depressing scene I had been imagining and instead she possessed this unworldly acceptance of the accident, of her fate. I never saw her cry and she never once looked like she might. Everyone else, including me, was a total mess, but Shyla was calm. She knew something we didn’t yet. She knew that everything, including her, would be okay.

Back at the gallery, our experience in Saint John still haunted us. While our visits with Shyla turned out to be beautiful, the town itself had left scars on our souls. It felt like the painting knew this, that it recognized this inherent confusion, this suffering and intensity that we had experienced in the days leading up to our visit to Saint John, and the kaleidoscope of emotions that came with it. Some people don’t understand why we purchased art that reminds us of something so depressing, but the work continues to speak to us each day, forever its meaning just slightly evolving. These days when I look at it, it reminds me not to take things for granted, that everything can be taken away from you. Whether it’s in a minute or gradually over the span of a few months, you can lose things you never knew you could lose.

But more importantly, it tells of the power of turning something painful into something meaningful, and of seeing the beauty beyond the grain. It inspires me. It reminds me that everything is going to be okay.

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The Love of a Good Man

sheenatkmic

He came to me when I least expected it. Love is so funny like that. It comes up in the most unusual places, hidden out in the open at crowded bars, appearing seemingly out of nowhere like a magic trick, a magician on the run. Just like that love can appear and disappear, which is why I tell my friends when you have the love of a good man to hold on to it so tight and to keep it close to your heart, to fight for it and cherish it and to never let it go. The love of a good man is hard to find, I know this. I never for a minute forget how lucky I am that I have it.

I had love once before, but it was a different kind of love, a youthful love, one that doesn’t know the bounds love asks of its believers. It was a love reserved for the young, a sweet, short romance that gave me everything I needed it to give me. It taught me how to care endlessly for another person. It taught me how to open up, how to be honest with myself and accountable to another human being. It taught me how to share secrets and feelings and emotions so strong it’s easier to leave them in the pages of old diaries, but more rewarding to talk them out. Most importantly, it taught me love comes in and out like the seasons and that it doesn’t always stay. You can have this whirlwind romance and it can end just like that. Those feelings can change and there are reasons known and reasons unknown for these things, but it won’t stop anything from happening. It taught me that some love does have an expiry date, a rest in peace sign, a cross marked at the intersection of youth and womanhood.

My new love is different. At the beginning, it seemed, it was destined not for greatness but instead a summer romance, a taste of excitement breathing between university semesters that would end when September came and the leaves changed colours. But I quickly learned that nothing is ever as it seems, things either are or they aren’t something. This love was meant for something more.

We met at a bar on Bloor Street in 2007, a defining year if there ever was one. This was the year I moved from Etobicoke back home again and eventually, finally, to the city. This was the year my first love ended and my new love began and between them a few bad stories for good measure. This was the year I became me.

It was also the year we became us. I noticed him right away and it caught me off guard when he approached me shortly after and asked to buy me a drink. I was drinking Tom Collins in those days because I was 20. He was 26. He was older and had sexy hair and a good job and a Guns N Roses belt buckle that pressed into me as we danced into the night. He was messy and the night was messy and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to make mistakes. I wanted to be wild and reckless and so did he. We saw each other at the time as a taste of the good life, but our definitions of the good life were flawed. Both relatively fresh out of long-term relationships, we saw each other as attractive distractions to our everyday lives, which were sadder on the inside than we showed on the outside. We were sadder, but we were never sad when we were together.

We met early in April and by May I knew I loved him, a love that made my heart beat so hard I thought it just might tear from my chest and escape someplace far away. I didn’t know it was possible to love somebody so hard so quickly, but I did and I loved him with every part of my being in a way I had never experienced before. It was passionate and raw. It was terrifying. I didn’t want to be in love like this, it was foreign and I didn’t know how to navigate those waters. I thought I had sailed before but this was different. I was scared of what was happening to me. All my thoughts returned to him, all my nights went to him, my heart went to him, my body went to him, I just let this love wash over me and even if I had tried I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it. By the end of May we ended all our phone calls with “I love you.”

This was almost seven years ago now and many people ask me how I have spent the entirety of my 20s with one man and I have told them that when you find the love of a good man it is as though time vaporizes. There is never quite enough. He is such a part of me that I feel his presence in my bones. When he aches, I ache. When he bleeds, I bleed. When he’s happy, I’m happy. He is the kind of man who will make me homemade chicken noodle soup at my earliest inclination of feeling sick. He is the kind of man who treats my nieces and nephews with such love I can’t help but imagine him as the father of my future babies. He is the kind of man who knows everything about me and loves me anyway, loves me even though I can be hard to deal with, hard to live with. He is the kind of man who showers me in this love, whose hugs and kisses embrace my entire body, whose jokes make me laugh, whose touch drives me wild, whose voice makes the world feel alright, who makes me feel alive.

There have been hard times, oh yes, bruises on our hearts from times we were not our best selves, our best us. There were times we would look at each other and feel only despair. But we worked through those times because we recognize that sometimes you have to work for love, you have to fight for love, you have to try and try and try again to make things right because there is nothing more magical, nothing more beautiful, than a love worth fighting for. A good love takes work, it takes dedication, it takes determination and it takes time. It takes effort. When people ask me how we’ve survived for so long, how we still show such affection and compassion for each other, it’s because we make the effort to be the best versions of ourselves we can be, for ourselves and for each other. We put in the effort to do things that couples do when they’re first starting to fall in love. We go on dates, we go on trips, we cook new recipes for each other and we try new wines. We laugh. We touch. We kiss. We care. Our secret is that we try.

When you find the love a good man, appreciate it. Love it. Take a minute each day to soak in its rays. Tell him you love him. Show him you love him. Hold him close like he holds you. Protect it and work for it and don’t be afraid of it. It wouldn’t be worth it if it didn’t make your heart race. Nothing is.

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. You can follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

One More Dime

sisters

I don’t know why it surprises me sometimes when we look so much alike in photos. Despite being born of the same X and Y-chromosomes, in many ways my sister and I couldn’t be more unalike. She, the younger one, is very much the country mouse to my city mouse. At 23, her idea of a good time is getting lost in the wilderness on horseback, following only your tracks back to the barn. She prefers the company of animals and has a way with them that echoes a Disney princess. She is truly a whisperer. At 23, my days were spent serving tables at a restaurant in the tourist part of downtown Toronto while dreaming of becoming a fulltime writer. My nights, lost to boys and bars.

Families are funny things. The dynamics and the roles can shift, but the direct relationships will remain the same. My sister and I have always been sisters. We haven’t always been friends. When we were young and small we did everything together. When we became our own people, we no longer understood each other in the same fashion. Things began to change. Our thoughts and ambitions no longer aligned. We didn’t share a secret language or a code anymore. We never called each other late at night after I moved away from home. I longed for our sisterhood to be as strong as our cousins, two sisters as close as one could ever dream. My heart broke every time I realized it wasn’t.

There were times when I would cry myself to sleep over this. The fractured dynamic of our relationship as sisters haunted me, forcing me to find in myself flaws where there shouldn’t be. I questioned my own character and my own dedication as a sister and a friend. I wondered if I as the older one am more responsible than she is, because I know what life’s like to not have a sister, while she does not. Sometimes she says she’ll call and when she doesn’t, I have allowed myself to remain sad instead of calling her myself. I have wondered, at times, if we are not closer because I am not trying hard enough. How different can we really be? Our eyes are the same and we both have dimples in our chins. Our stories are intertwined.

***

At our cousin’s wedding, we Googled the lyrics to Joan Jett’s cover of “I Love Rock’n’Roll” just to make sure we had all the words right. If you wanted the bride and groom to kiss, you had to interrupt the evening by addressing the gathering and singing a song with the word “love” in it. I was drunk because I am sick and drink too much sometimes to cope with it. My sister was not drunk because so is she.

We decided on Joan Jett because it’s one of the songs we have sang together before, driving down the highway as teenagers. We chose it because we wanted to do something together that we both enjoyed. The wedding had brought us closer together and reestablished a bond that had been long missing. As bridesmaids, we went from spending minimal time together to seeing each other every other weekend. We went dress shopping and planned showers. We danced the night away at the bachelorette party and laughed later as we carried the drunk bride-to-be back to the hotel. We danced in the middle of the dance floor and roared until we cried when the same guy hit on us both, separately. We were acting like sisters and it was beautiful and meaningful.

We also chose the song because we thought it would be a funny departure from the love ballads other drunks had been serenating us with all night long. We wanted something that represented our newfound sisterhood. We knew this but we did not say this. We practiced the lines and then sang it to the bride and groom. They kissed. Everyone cheered. We were, for a moment, invincible.

***

When I was in high school, I bought her Metric tickets for Christmas or her birthday and we drove to Kitchener to watch the band perform at a venue that had cages in it, usually reserved for dancers. There were no dancers the night of the concert. I was 17 and the proud owner of a new driver’s license. My mom let us borrow the car, a white Neon, as long as we called her when we got there. We did. Before we left, we bought Doritos at the grocery store and left them in the car for after. It was January. To this day we both agree they taste better cold.

***

My sister and I have an understanding and appreciation of each other that we didn’t have before the wedding. I don’t think we knew before how to manage our differences, focusing instead too much on the variables rather than finding beauty in them. Our DNA may be tangled, but we are different people and as we get older we are starting to recognize that this is what makes our relationship so special. At four years apart, our lives have not always aligned. When she was entering high school, I was moving away to university. In many ways I wasn’t there for her in the ways she likely needed, and it has taken a long time for her to feel confident in seeking advice from me, in recognizing my own experiences as potentially valuable to her own. In the same light, I must remember she is younger, that she is still learning things I have already learned. Yet in many ways, she continues to teach me new things about myself and the way relationships—and families—change; how they flex in and out, how they breathe and mature and evolve.

When we were little girls, we would sit by the window in the kitchen, sun beaming down upon us, and we would draw for hours. We would draw everything—from puppies to sceneries, from portraits of our family to cartoon characters. We shared this love of drawing passionately and it became integral to our understanding of each other. It was something we had together. It was a foundation.

Now that we’re older, now that we’re entering new phases of our lives and learning and growing as people, it is important to remind myself that these foundations still exist. We can look out into the world and see different versions of the same picture, we can experience different narratives of the same story, and of our own stories, but the significance of this parallel is something I finally am beginning to understand. I love her for who she is in her entirety and while I may not always understand her, and she definitely may not always understand me, I will cherish how it is both our differences and our similarities that comprise the fabric of our relationship, of our sisterhood. I will put another dime in the jukebox, baby.

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde as well as the Toronto editor. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

Image from Home of the Vein. View complete work here.

Fortune Telling In New Orleans

Shadowscapes Tarot

I started crying when I asked her the question. I don’t know why I thought a fortune teller in New Orleans could tell me something I didn’t already know. I’ve had many readings in my life and none have been particularly revealing, though I have learned a few things about what makes one better than the other. A good fortune teller has the gift of reaffirming all your worst fears without you having to tell them the gritty details. Some seem to further have the ability to look into your soul (or your eyes…eyes are very telling), to see something that you don’t—or rather something you don’t want to see—and then tell you for the cost of a couple twenties. This particular fortune teller was named Fairy, recommended to my friend and I by a painter in Jackson Square. She told us Fairy was the only fortune teller she would see in New Orleans. She said she was the best.

It was sunny and hot and it was the beginning of November. November is usually the month I attempt to swear off drinking, burdened by ten months of bad decision-making and gin. In November I realize how close or far I came from actualizing my new years resolutions, which for the most part constitute doing less of something rather than more. Less vices. Less sadness. I don’t like to admit I am sad. I work hard and have a decent career as a writer, it’s tough but I do it well enough that it pays most of my bills and takes up the majority of my resume. I am in love and I have the best of friends and I have support, three quintessential tiers of happiness. At 27 though, I know sadness and happiness are not mutually exclusive. I know that what you have on the outside cannot make up for what you lack on the inside.

I looked at Fairy part way into our reading and I heard myself say, “I just don’t want to be sad anymore.” I have been sad for so long I am exhausted by it and no amount of prescriptions or talk therapy seems to have changed this. When I looked at Fairy and said those words, I realized it wasn’t so much a question as it was a declaration. I just wanted someone else’s opinion that wasn’t my mother’s or my therapist’s or 3 am versions of advice from my friends. I wanted an outsider opinion from someone who didn’t know anything about me. I wanted someone to tell me something new.

She looked at me and she said I’m not sad. At first, I found myself rejecting the words that she claimed came to her from the universe and exited through her lips. What do you mean I’m not sad? I found myself rejecting these things because I have blamed so much of my sadness on all those blips on my lifeline that I’ve attempted to bury under passing years and empty bottles and new accomplishments designed to make me feel something other than this dull ache. She said I am not sad. Then what am I? I felt mad so imagine my surprise when she said I am angry, but my anger manifests as sadness.

It’s a weird thing to have a stranger tell you that, someone who has no idea of the things thing you’ve been through, your fears, your regrets, your failures, or your desires. It’s strange to have someone tell you that you’re angry and then when you want to hate them for it, to actually find yourself becoming angry with those words and realizing that those words are perhaps then at least partially true. It’s weird to realize that you never realized this before. It’s such a simple truth, why couldn’t anyone see it? Why couldn’t I see it?

What I do next is up to me and no oracle or tarot cards can point me in the right direction, no amount of meditation can calm this, none of those crystals I’ve bought while drinking whiskey out of coffee cups on cold Toronto afternoons can find me salvation. I need to do something about this anger and I need to take responsibility for it starting right now. A while ago I interviewed someone, a role model of mine, someone who has been through hell and back, and I asked her how she’s handled everything with such grace. She said she’s taken responsibility for it. She says she has a life to live. This is the blurry part, the part I need to take some time to figure out. I thought first I’d write about it, but what I do now remains, for the time being, a mystery.

Fortune tellers can’t tell you anything you don’t already know. I placed American tens in Fairy’s donation box and walked away with a heavy heart, but it was no heavier than it had ever been. I had a sunburn on my arms and chest from sitting in the heat listening to a stranger tell me all the secrets I had been keeping from myself. Then, I felt lighter. I remembered it was November and I closed my eyes for a minute, listening to the flurry of jazz music that surrounded me in the hot New Orleans air. I opened my eyes and looked at all the fortune tellers lining the square, all the people wanting so desperately to know their truths. I thought about the nights I had spent on Bourbon Street that weekend, I thought about the city I was in and the city and the boy I missed back home. I let myself feel the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair.

I felt happy.

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

Normal Girls Are Boring

normalgirls

“Normal girls are boring,” my boyfriend said, as he does on those lucid afternoons where instability swirls around us like sparkler streaks on Canada Day. In these fleeting moments my own delusions work in my favour and it dawns on me that being crazy is a hall pass. It’s a way out. Being crazy forgives me for things normal girls could never get away with. Sometimes its memories that go missing in the deep, dark crevices of my mind. Sometimes it’s too many T3’s and JD and not enough skirt on a Tuesday in winter when I should be writing or sleeping. Sometimes its door slamming and item throwing followed by confusion, crying and often hugs. Normal girls could never get away with that. But crazy girls? We get by just fine.

Crazy girls mean things stay interesting. I used to be self-conscious in my craziness, but now I embrace it whole heartedly so much so even the word “crazy,” as politically incorrect as it is, has brought with it such adventure, I am beside myself in gratitude.

Crazy girls mean things always change. It means no plan is set in stone. Ever. It means talk of R&R but trips booked to Vegas. And once you become one with your craziness suddenly life seems different. New. Like everything before was rose tinted. Like we all had blinders on. Like we’re older now and more grown up. Improved versions.

Two point oh.

Normal girls know themselves, or maybe they don’t, but the normal girls I know do. They go to work and make lunches in advance and take on the world prepared, effortlessly almost. My normal friends do normal things like buy popcorn AND candy at the movies. And they drive cars like normal. And they dress normal. And they buy houses like normal. And they fuck normal. And I used to envy normal because at least there is structure in normalcy, something every crazy girl needs now and then. But there is also discipline. And explanations. And accountability. And I don’t always have those answers or even know the questions to begin with.

And I used to feel bad, horrible even, a guilt conscience that ripped at my heart and made my insides bleed and spill all over the floor, through the drains and into other dimensions, every time I couldn’t explain myself.

Sometimes crazy girls get confused, I’d say. Forget the day, forget the time, forget meds.

Sometimes crazy girls get lost and found and lost again.

Sometimes crazy girls don’t get it, any of it, ever.

Or maybe that’s just me and I’m the only crazy one or perhaps not even crazy at all.

Maybe he never even said that.

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

Hurricane Love

Southern Accent

“Let me take you out for a drink, just one,” he said.

It was summer and I was 20, caught between university semesters and, having recently relocated temporarily back to my parents, I was very much in lust with the idea of drinks with an older man in a city I didn’t want to leave.

So I stayed.

The drink, just one, was huge. A concoction of undetermined amounts of rum mixed with juices that very much resembled a grown-up fruit punch. Much sweeter than my usual drinks (at the time, I was also very much into gin and sodas and the occasional Tom Collins), I was hit hard by the Hurricane – both the unnecessarily large drink and, also, by him.

There are things you’ll always remember about a first date. You’ll probably tell too many stories, and as the drinks flow you may regret one or two of them. Your heart will race when his hand grazes yours and you’ll feel nervous when you laugh. There is a magical energy to the newness of first dates. I remember very vividly the way he kissed me. It caught me off guard, the way he lightly pulled me into him and kissed me with a passion usually reserved for established romance.

I thought of this last night as we took a seat at the bar, just as we had that hazy, summer night when I had a bus in two hours, but no intentions of catching it. Now at 26, I think to myself how it seems both everything and nothing has changed. How we are the same people but such different people. How sometimes I still yearn to be 20 when everything felt so young and love was so young, so young, it didn’t even exist yet.

When we met in the depths of a weekend night that summer, it was his brown eyes and tousled hair I noticed first. The dance floor was full of beautiful bodies, but I could see only him. Our first words were lost to too much youth and too much gin, first kisses much the same, but I still remember his mouth and his body and the feeling of my hands on his neck, his on my hips, his GNR belt buckle pressing into me.

While drinking Hurricanes on our first official date days later, I found myself wondering if you can love someone so soon after meeting them. I thought you had to grow up together, escape small towns together, not find each other in a darkened room, slurring words. But I believe in love at first sight because of that night. Because, sometimes, we still find ourselves sipping drinks at the same bar. On these nights, the world spins in circles round and round and it is like we were there again drunk off innocence and summer heat. Laughing and flirting like teenagers. Like if I closed my eyes and pretended hard enough I could almost believe we’d travelled back in time.

Except, when he orders a hurricane.

I order wine.

Sheena Lyonnais is Blonde’s Toronto editor. You can follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

Valley of the Dolls: How Pamela Des Barres’ Writing Workshop Changed My Life

GTOs

You never know what to expect when you go to these things. You know it’s a writer’s group, so it will be intimate and there will probably be tears, maybe you’ll discover something new about yourself, reveal some hidden truth. But you can’t ever actually prepare for the way these things unfold. For the stories you’ll hear, you’ll tell. These things have an organic, electric current that flows through them, one that is beyond body and mind.

For the uninitiated, Pamela Des Barres is a god among girls, at least girls with penchants for bearded boys and bad decisions, girls who grew up listening to records, chasing bands, making stories. A member of the GTOs, she’s one of the world’s most famous groupies, and before you jump to conclusions, you must realize her role in your record collection. For she pulled on the heartstrings of Mick Jagger, Keith Moon, Jimmy Page, and Paul McCartney, for starters. She is the original wild child, tied to no one, lover of the moment. She wrote memoirs documenting her adventures and affairs, and she wrote them, somehow, with an elegance to her raw prose, never sparing a detail, so you could almost imagine yourself in a thin white dress, flowered headband, on the bus alongside her in the California sun.

I first borrowed her book I’m With The Band from my friend, and Blonde contributor, Allison and I liked it so much I didn’t return it for two years. It was also Allison who, through some higher power or spiritual force or intention of being, convinced Pamela Des Barres to come give one of her writer’s workshops, infamous in LA, here in Toronto. She picked Pamela up herself from the airport and hand delivered her to us, a group of lost girls, sharing a common bond of music and words and boys and stories. Pamela came to us and when she left we weren’t the same.

Something happened in that room. Pamela gathered us around and we sat in a big circle for two full nights. There were twenty of us, most were from Toronto but some came as far as Edmonton. First we shared some details about ourselves, the simple things, our names, a little morsel about our lovers. It didn’t take long before we were sharing secrets, there were moments so quiet you could hear the hair rising on arms, you could feel the intensity, the honesty. Girls bravely told stories they hadn’t even told their closest friends. I told stories I hadn’t (still haven’t) told my closest friends. We wrote about lies, sex, regrets, innocence, death, childhood, our parents, our hometowns, our dreams, and our records. We laughed. We cried. We wrote about the people that made us, the people that broke us, and the strength that allowed us to continue despite this.

But what I never expected to find were the Dolls, the very girls themselves. When you reveal so much about yourself to a room full of strangers you are making an unspoken pact. What happens in the room, stayed in the room, but the friendships and connections that were made in that room transcended it.

We became confidants. We became friends. We became part of a group so unique we call ourselves the Toronto Dolls, as Pamela does to the girls who attend her workshops.  We became part of each other, in a deep way, constants in messy lives. We help each other through struggles, through writer’s block, through pains and gains. We encourage each other when we’re down and send accolades when things are up. We support each other’s businesses, bands, and, most of all, writing. When we confess our sins, there is no judgment.

Because of the Dolls, I have realized things about myself I’m not sure I would have realized before. I have been encouraged to do things I’m not sure I would have before, to take leaps and risks and to start saying yes. It’s one of the reasons I started Blonde, and one of the reasons I am inspired to build it into something beautiful and raw. Blonde simply wouldn’t exist without the Dolls. I’m not sure where I’d be without them either.

Sheena Lyonnais is an editor of Blonde, as well as many other things, and first and foremost a writer. You can follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.