Art Imitates Life: A Little Life

Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully. –Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Packing five months of my life into a couple suitcases was a daunting task. I spent a long time distilling who I am into my favourite band shirts and the pair of jeans that I wear as if they’re glued to my body and the notebooks that I carry around at all times. Worse than all that, though, was deciding which books to bring. I have shelves packed with novels and autobiographies, coffee table books and art history texts. I turn to them for companionship and inspiration and encouragement, and the idea of choosing only a few was a hard one to wrap my head around.

When it came down to it, I knew which ones I needed to have with me. I got the Patti Smith box checked off easily – Just Kids and Devotion and a copy of her 1978 poetry anthology titled Babel, which is something I still can’t believe I own. I piled on You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, a book that everyone who wants to live their best life needs to read. I was missing a novel, though, and although I could have brought my favourite Harry Potter book or Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch or The Secret History, I eventually decided on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

This is not an easy book. It’s over 700 pages long. It’s dense and heavy and it sits inside your stomach once you’ve finished it. The first time I read it, I put it down multiple times because the passages were too heartbreaking and the emotions were too strong. The author has said that she wanted to write a novel like ombré cloth, something that starts out light and is pitch black by the end, and that’s what she did.

I brought A Little Life with me because it feels human. It lives and breathes, the lives of Jude and Willem and JB and Malcom intertwining with your own. The lows are really, really low, and the highs, although somewhat mundane, shine through the darkness like jewels. It puts your own hardships into perspective while simultaneously making you realize the value of the tiny, shimmery moments, even when they’re as normal as making eye contact with your best friend across a crowded room or going out for dinner at the same place with the same group of people every week.

The world that this book lives in seems attached to so many other things, and that’s why I’m writing this. There are no other books like it – and believe me, I’ve searched – but it comes up in art pieces and movies and songs. I like when one form of art bleeds into a million other forms of art, and A Little Life does that beautifully.

Visual Art

What drew me to this book in the first place was the cover. It’s a black and white photo by Peter Hujar, and when you relate it to the novel itself, it displays so much pain, reflecting the content of the book back at the reader.  It reminds me a lot of a photography series by Maud Fernhout called What Real Men Cry Like, which is a really beautiful depiction of boys being vulnerable and transparent about their emotions. Another similar piece is Robert Tait Mackenzie’s Four Masks of Facial Expressions, which are plaster casts depicting violent effort, breathlessness, fatigue, and exhaustion. It’s another work of art that depicts emotion exceptionally, just as the cover of the book does.


This connection may be because the film is fresh in my mind or because I am mildly obsessed with it, but I think Call Me By Your Name mirrors A Little Life in more ways than one. Both show the nuances and breadth of human emotion. Both are about connection and vulnerability and how hard it is to put your guard down. Both are not frivolous, but real, when it comes to describing relationships. It’s the last scene of Call Me By Your Name that reminds me of this book. Elio cries in front of the fireplace for nearly four minutes, letting the dam break and his sadness run through him. It’s glorious, and the parallels that can be drawn between he and Jude are numerous.


The very first song that reminded me of A Little Life was ‘All The Sad Young Men’ by Spector. The band does a really good job of communicating both connection and disconnection, and we see a lot of that in Yanagihara’s masterpiece. I eventually added ‘St. Jude’ by Florence + the Machine to the list. In the novel, Jude is named after the patron saint of lost causes, and that is exactly what Florence sings about in the track. Another notable one is ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ by The National, as Jude spends much of the book distancing himself from others because he believes this will keep them safe. The tracks I’ve included in this playlist are overflowing and emotive and they hold nothing back, much like A Little Life.

Reading this book all over again is proving to be difficult. I pick it up each morning and feel a bit of my heart fall out of my chest and into its pages. I feel for every single character, I understand some of the hardships (though definitely not the biggest ones), and I am so drawn to the lives of these friends that I feel as though I am one of them. Although it’s painful and heart wrenching, it also feels hopeful, and a tiny glimmer of hope is really all that we can ever ask for. That’s what keeps me going.

Side note: I checked my Goodreads page, and I was reading A Little Life at exactly the same time last year as I am this year. Life is cyclical and amazing and I love that my life now is connected to my life then, even in such a small way.


Consume Like an Artist

A while ago I read a quote about how a prerequisite to being an artist is the ability to consume. Artists collect things. Fragments of movies, the way the lighting looks in a specific shot, how the sun falls on an actors’ jawline. Corners of paintings or a specific line of graphite in a sketch. The soaring bridge of a song, the bass beat in the melody, the way the singer changes notes. We fall in love with how poets describe city streets and winter mornings, with the aesthetic our heroes project, with intelligent advertising campaigns and album artwork and book covers. All of it is important.

I keep notes of things that really interest me, always carrying around a notebook where I can jot down snippets of overheard conversation or a really good line in a movie. It’s something I refer back to often, and the things that can’t really be held in there are kept in my mind or on my heart. When we come in contact with things that affect us, there really isn’t a choice whether or not you keep it with you. Some of them find ways of burrowing themselves under your skin, stuck to you forever. It’s a nice feeling. All of that collecting means something, and a lot of the best art is made when people combine what they know and what they love and what they can do.

I had a moment at the beginning of the year when I saw La La Land three times in theatres and maybe downloaded it so that I could watch it on a daily basis. I read interviews with the cast, I bought the soundtrack on vinyl, I memorized the lines and tried – and then failed – to insert them into everyday conversation. (For the record, replying “It’s wool” to a comment about your outfit isn’t actually funny and most people don’t get that you’re trying to imitate Ryan Gosling. I wouldn’t recommend it.)

La La Land infiltrated everything I was doing at the time, influencing the art I was making and the things I was writing and the discussions I was having. I hadn’t been so inspired by something in a long time, and it was a nice change to feel so consumed by a form of art that I don’t always connect with so deeply. I eventually settled myself and went on to find inspiration in other forms, but I still like the idea of what we consume in turn being influential to what we make for others to consume. I thought I’d compile a list of things I’ve been loving lately, partly because I think I should share their glory, but also because it’s just nice to talk about what you’re excited by. It’s something I think we should all do more of.


Rostam’s debut album Half-Light is a TRIUMPH. Charlotte and I were driving back from seeing Patti Smith on the day it was released, and I put it on Spotify and we sat listening to it in silence as she drove us home. I remember rock formations and quiet highways and wearing my concert t-shirt from the night before, exhausted but still in disbelief. The album mirrored my own joy, but it also mirrored the bittersweet feeling that came with the fact that the show, the road trip, the forgetting of daily life was over.  When I listen to it I still think about that day and the freedom I felt and the way the songs washed over my skin. I adore every single track, but standouts are “Bike Dream,” “Don’t Let It Get To You,” and “Gwan.” The third one opens with the lyric “Don’t listen to me I only believe in myself,” and the first listen felt life changing.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of solo Beatles albums, which I think came out of a desire to attempt to educate myself. The Plastic Ono Band’s Live Peace in Toronto 1969 is a bit of a hot mess, but I like how chaotic it is. Also, one listen to “Give Peace a Chance” makes me feel like a revolution, and sometimes music should inspire you to do important things like use your voice. RAM is the only Paul McCartney album that’s also attributed to Linda McCartney, and I started listening to this one after I bought a massive book of her photography and became enamored by their relationship. My favourites include “Ram On” and “Heart of the Country.” Last but not least, George Harrison’s All Things Must Past is really required listening at this point. “My Sweet Lord” has been one of my favourite tracks for a long time, but I also love “Wah-Wah” and “What is Life” – and the whole thing, really.


I am fascinated by creative process. It’s intimate to look in on how someone gets from Point A to Point B, how they write a song or take a photo or make it through a months-long retrospective of their work. I’m nosy and I like getting under the surface of things and that means music and art documentaries are right up my street. I’ve watched an awful lot of them, but these are some I keep coming back to.

1. Harry Styles: Behind the Album

I realize I waffle on about him a bit too much, but I watch this at least twice a month and it doesn’t get old. Watching Harry create his first solo album is enthralling, and it was smart to juxtapose the creative process of each track with a performance of the finished song. I tear up watching him happily lip sync the words to “Sign of the Times,” and I get serious outfit envy every time he shows up in another vintage t-shirt or a billowy blouse. It’s also reassuring to hear him talk about the fear he felt when releasing the record, which makes me feel a lot better about my own hesitation when it comes to sharing my work while also motivating me to do it anyway.

2. Marina Abramovic : The Artist is Present

This follows Abramovic as she goes through the steps of her own retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. It’s poignant and emotionally charged and I love watching a female artist in a position of power. The woman is impressive as heck, and this documentary is and incredibly meaningful way to document such a monumental occasion.

3. The Vaccines – I Don’t Even Know You

This is only twenty-four minutes long so I’m not entirely sure whether or not it counts as a film, but they’re my favourite band and I had to include it. The video documents the highs and lows of the band, cutting together short clips of life on the road with past footage of early shows and recording sessions. I think part of me likes it so much because The Vaccines feel so close to me, but I forced Charlotte to watch it and she seemed to enjoy it, too, so it can’t be all bad. If you like scruffy indie band members and a healthy dose of angst interspersed with some nostalgia and milestone-reaching, this one’s for you.

Visual Art

I first set foot into Sandra Meigs’ Room for Mystics a few weeks ago, and I’ve returned twice since then to immerse myself in the environment she’s created on the top floor of the AGO. It is a celebration of joy and of pushing through pain to get to the brighter side of things. The pieces are striking, the accompanying score is trance-inducing and vibration-raising, and the entire thing leaves me in good spirits every time I visit.

Amalia Pica’s ears to speak of is currently being presented at The Power Plant, and it’s another notable exhibit. Touching on the failures of technology and communication, the exhibit raises questions and almost forces visitors to think about what we choose to listen to and how well we communicate with the people who matter to us. It also brings up the acts of listening and communicating as a privilege rather than a birthright, and I think that’s an important topic to consider. We can all be doing better.

Aside from the physical exhibits, I’ve also become completely enamored by Henri Matisse and Egon Schiele. Matisse’s cut-outs and nudes are vibrant and colourful, the kind of thing that confronts your senses in a good way. Schiele’s forms are spidery and romantic, and I like how they feel almost gothic. I can’t get enough.


I’ve plowed through a couple Bukowski anthologies over the past few months, mostly because what he wrote is the complete opposite of what I write. I often find it challenging to wrap my head around his poems, and I like how gritty and ordinary his subjects are. I finished Love Is a Dog From Hell a little while ago, and I’m currently working through Last Night of the Earth Poems. I’d recommend both of them.

I nearly cried when I bought a signed copy of Patti Smith’s newest book, Devotion, at her concert in Central Park. I spend a lot of time pressing my thumb to the indentations left by her pen, and I have definitely considered getting the signature tattooed near my heart. The book itself is a masterpiece, like everything Patti creates, and it sits on my bedside table, reminding me of the allegiance I have to Patti herself and the devotion I have to my own writing.

A bit of an odd one is Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles, which like many French novels, is kind of weird and off-putting. I enjoyed it nonetheless, soaking up its quirks and relishing in the fast pace and the short amount of time it took me to finish it. Another quick read is Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, which made me ask a lot of questions and consider a lot of aspects of my life and ultimately changed the way I view the path I’m on and the person I am.

I could definitely talk about more, but I feel like I’m pouring my lifeblood out onto the Internet and I’m scared that my veins might shrivel up. It’s also probably a good idea to save some of my favourite things for another blogpost in a couple months’ time. I hope you enjoy the things I love as much as I do – or at least pretend you do. (Just kidding. If you don’t, tell me about all the things that are better than the stuff I mentioned. I’d love to hear about them.)

My Top Five Favourite Music Movies

I am not always a movie person. They’re often long, and somehow I have gotten to a point where I can’t sit still for two hours without checking my phone or getting up for food, unless I’m watching Harry Potter or anything by Wes Anderson or something equally as compelling. One thing I do love, though, is music movies. Musicals, movies about bands, movies about record stores, movies about buskers, movies about anything that has to do with people who live and breathe music. This is a round-up of my favourite films that are cinematically great, but that also have music splattered on their storylines – and boy was it difficult to narrow it down.  There are so many more films that I would have liked to include, but I wanted to keep it short and sweet. Perhaps one day I’ll make part two, but for now, these are my five favourites, in no particular order.


Almost Famous, 2000

Oh my gosh this one’s a good one. This movie is essentially my wildest dream come to life, and each time I watch it I spend the entirety of the movie willing my life to become that of William Miller. Accompanying a band on tour? Hanging out with tons of cool girls who teach you about life and interviewing band members while travelling from city to city? Writing for Rolling Stone? Sign me up. Almost Famous is sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll come to life. It feels magical at times, but the characters of the film also reach the lowest of lows. It’s part beautiful fantasy, part bleak real life. And it’s one hundred percent addictive.


Across the Universe, 2007

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I hadn’t watched this movie until last year. And I adore it. It’s edgy, it pushes the limits of film and redefines what we know as a musical. It has quickly become one of my favourite movies, and it’s one of those feel-good films that instantly puts you in a good mood. In the end, I really think it’s a work of art. Weaving famous, familiar tracks into an interesting story of love and revolution, I was captivated by it instantly. The actors play their parts perfectly, the songs don’t feel out of place, and the storyline is both well-known and unexpected. It’s a movie that’s always worth watching.


The Sapphires, 2012

This one is one of the most underrated films on this list, by far. The Sapphires is a wonderful film about an Aboriginal Australian girl-group that is scouted by a well-meaning Irishman and booked to travel Vietnam in order to entertain U.S. troops. Following four sisters as they navigate the ins and outs of coming of age in a war-torn country, the movie is brimming with stories of love, friendship, and family. Containing only the best soul songs and keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very end, this is a film I highly recommend watching. Sometimes there’s nothing better for your soul than soul music itself.


Sing Street, 2016

I just watched this one last week, but I absolutely loved it. Most of my being thought that it would be cheesy and predictable – and to be honest, it is a little bit of that. But it’s also hilarious and really somewhat inspiring. At its core, it’s a film about a group of misfits. A group of kids that comes together so that one of them can chase a girl. All of them, though, are also chasing a crazy dream all while trying to get through their days at a strict all-boys Catholic school. They form a band with next to no experience, they shoot amateur music videos, and they actually write damn good songs. It’s a movie that leaves you feeling terribly happy and determined to chase your own dreams and accomplish your own goals, and that’s not something that every movie can do for you.


The Commitments, 1991

My mom gave me the soundtrack to this movie a few years ago, and the tape sat on my shelf for months before I actually decided to watch the film. Needless to say, I loved it. Set in a slum in working class Ireland, The Commitments is about Jimmy Rabbitte, a man who decides to start a soul band in the midst of the hardships his country is facing. And, somehow, it works. The movie documents the entire process of forming a band, as well as the group’s rise to fame as they perfect their craft. It also showcases the relationships and challenges between the members, injecting a bit of reality into the film. This movie is pure happiness, and if you can, you should watch it as soon as possible.

Now that that’s over, I’m going to log off of my computer, grab something sweet, and watch Across the Universe on repeat until the wee hours of the morning. I hope this list inspires you to watch something new or get out a movie that you haven’t watched in ages but that you adore. And, if there are any music-related movies that I absolutely must see, please feel free to share!