Click on the items to below to read my book excerpts:


As I scarf down some yogurt to fuel my bike ride to work, I scan the front page of the Globe & Mail business section. The ashes of the dot com meltdown are clearly still smoldering. Tech companies, both dubious and formerly stalwart enterprises, are being torched and scorched on a regular basis, even in 2001. Interest rates back up to 8%! The Nasdaq closes at all time low! The G&M informs me in full sky-is-falling mode. The inside pages are no better. Unemployment is up. Housing is a buyer’s market.

If we were to believe Arthur C. Clark, by now we should all be relaxing in space stations kitted out in sleek monochromatic décor, listening to soothing classical Muzak as we hang suspended among the stars, with nothing better to do. Or maybe Aurthur C. was right and this is the technology apocalypse and the pod doors will never open again.

But enough perusing the paper. I need to get to work. I’m already dressed in my bike riding attire, so all I need to do is stuff my more presentable clothes into a pannier bag and clip it onto the back of my blue Miele beater hybrid bike, which lives in the front hall. When my parents visited to see my post-divorce house a couple of months ago, my mother said “Does your bike really need to be in the front hall? In the winter? Who rides bike in the winter?” Yes, it does. And I do. My bike is my sole mode of wheeled transportation and it would be a major inconvenience if it were stolen, which has happened many times. Not this particular bike, but its many, many, long-lost brethren.

I live in what’s referred to as Toronto’s downtown suburbia because of the demographic of yuppies and young families. But unlike real suburbia, there’s no need for a car because everything is in walking and biking distance. I do own a driver’s license, which I finally obtained on a dare when I was 30, but its only job is to serve as ID. I haven’t been behind a wheel since I passed the test twelve years ago. My ex-husband used to say I was only a marginally better passenger than driver, which I think is uncharitable. But also completely true.

My post-divorce house was a bargain at $285,000 because I’m the third owner since 1901. Little old lady died. Little old lady died. Then me. Little-ish at five-foot four and barely clearing 100 pounds, but by no means old, even though I’m on the wrong side of 40. The last time it was renovated was1955, with all the mod-cons and colour choices that implies. The stove looks like it belongs in The Honeymooners’ kitchen and the pee-coloured Formica on the countertop has burn marks from several decades of misplaced pots and pans and countless knife knicks from what I assume were enthusiastic dinner preparations. The house needs everything done to it you can imagine and probably things that defy imagination.

Some HVAC guys are coming by after work to tell me what it will cost to replace the boiler and the two oil tanks (two oil tanks!!) that fuel it and get rid of the cast iron radiators that are heavier than anvils. Maybe Wile E. Coyote would take them off my hands for more fun and profit. At least I have a well-paid job with the promise of a hefty bonus when our fiscal year ends in September.

I cram my red hair into my helmet, heft my bike out the door and down the peeling wooden stairs of a sad porch that lists to the left, then wheel it along the cracked concrete of the front walkway. My route to work takes me due south and downhill on Broadview all the way to the lake, then west to the foot of Yonge Street. It’s a pleasant ride and I use the time to muse idly about the day ahead. Likely the same old. Check email and voicemail, usually sparse and inconsequential. The weekly status meeting is at 10. I’ll need to come up with a list of things I’ve done that sound like meaningful and productive. Lunch at noon. Afternoon spent shuffling papers. I never thought working at a tech start-up could be so boring. But I can’t quibble with the paycheck.     

When I arrive at One Yonge Street, I’m lucky to find an empty spot in the bike rack that’s closest to the front door. I unclip my pannier, release my Kryptonite U-lock from its holder on the frame and secure the bike to the post. I take off my helmet, but bring it with me as I walk up the steps to the front door. I don’t think helmets are stolen very often, but I like this one and it fits well, so I don’t want to take a chance. It has a kind of swirly black on white thing going on and I bought a kid’s size so it would fit what my helpful friends call my “pin head.” Come to think of it, any normal adult wouldn’t be able to cram their head in it, so I’m not sure why I’m so careful with it. Maybe because carting a bike helmet around makes me look like the urban street warrior I aspire to be seen as. Not the business-school graduate debt-laden yuppie that I am.

I snag just a snippet of conversation from the guy who gets off the elevator as I enter at 7:45. “Missed third-round funding,” I think he said. He probably saw the same article I read this morning about the sad plight of tech companies. I press the button for the 24th floor. The corridor is empty as I leave the elevator car and so is the handicapped bathroom that I use as my change room. I strip off my bike shorts and t-shirt, sop up my glow with paper towel, and change into an outfit appropriate for a start-up: ombre-striped matching shell and cardigan in decreasing shades of pink. Op-art flowered mini-skirt. Birkenstocks.

Maxlink, where I work, is a nascent telecom company whose mission is to supply the “last-mile internet” to low-rent office buildings. This is going to be accomplished by satellites and thin air. No need for costly infrastructure upgrades! Class C buildings will be able to charge Class B rent! Or something like that. I started here in January, four months ago, to be in charge of documenting business processes so the company will look like it has its act together, so investors will invest. Our offices look impressive from the outside. In the marble-clad reception room, a well-groomed twenty-something wearing a geometric-patterned Diane Von Furstenberg knock-off wrap dress, murmurs quietly into a phone. This is to make us look more established than we are. She’s probably arranging a manicure appointment or rallying her BFFs for Friday cocktails, not intercepting an important call.


Once I pass through the glass doors to the inner sanctum, the ambiance devolves into a rat-maze of intersecting cubicles. As a holder of a fancy job title – Director of Process Improvement – I get the semblance of an office. I don’t exactly have a window but more of what a real estate agent would call a “window view,” as there is a narrow hallway separating my door from the floor-to-ceiling glass. When my door is open, I can see the Toronto Islands and the condo that’s right next door, within spitting distance. So close that the guys congregate every afternoon to watch the clean-freak lady on the 24th floor who vacuums every day at 3:00. Completely naked. I guess they need to derive excitement from something, because it sure isn’t contained within these walls.

I enter my enclave, fling my pannier on my visitor chair and boot up my computer. I am almost logged into email when Serge bustles in. He’s a short, roundish, jolly, Quebec French guy. We got hired because Normand, the CIO, knew us from the consulting firm we both used to work for. I didn’t know Serge before I got here because he worked in the Montreal office and I was in Toronto, but we’ve become fast friends because we speak the same language. Not French, but consulting firm lingo. We speak of methodologies and deliverables and decks and use-cases and entities.

Maxlink uses a lot of consultants, including a big crew from our old firm, which was recently sold to IBM, most of whom get billed to us at $1000 a day. Serge’s job is to oversee the projects the consultants are working on. He gets to boss ex-colleagues around and make them accountable for their billables. We both enjoy this a little more than would seem appropriate, but then again, the meaning of appropriate kind of flies out the window when you work for a tech start-up.

We’ve compared notes and Normand apparently gave us both the same smooth sales pitch, complete with copious exclamatory sentences. “It’s a start-up, so you can write your own ticket! Invent your own role! It’s telecom, a bullet-proof industry! The need for internet connections is exploding! The mainstream providers can’t keep up! You can pretty much name your price and there’ll be stock options very soon!” he said.

I’m guessing he made a bunch of big promises to broker himself a good package and needed us to make them happen. But my existing job at a niche consulting business that never seemed to have more than one client was not looking promising. At least this sounded more exciting. I could not resist those enthusiastic exclamation points. I bit.  

Serge eyes my pannier and raises his eyebrows. I sigh and move it from the chair to the gap between my desk and the wall. He plops into the guest chair. “Did you see the email?” he asks.

“No. I just got here. I’ll log-in once I check my voicemail.”

“Don’t bother logging in. It may not work anyhow. We just got notified that round three funding is toast. We are probably toast. Or as we would say in French, nous sommes brioche. There’s an all hands meeting in half an hour. Let’s grab a coffee first. Oh. Right. Tea for you.”

We head down to the cafeteria and grab a booth by the window. There are already some sailboats out on Lake Ontario this early in the season, serenely wafting in the wind. I am definitely not serene nor even close to calmly wafting. “I don’t know what I’ll do if we’re going under,” I say. “My resume reads like a list of ghost companies. How is it I could have worked for five companies – so far – that got acquired and disappeared. Then the companies that acquired them eventually realized they didn’t really get anything when they bought a professional services company and got rid of most of the staff they acquired? Anybody who reads my CV is going to think I’m either an idiot or a jinx. Or probably both. The only reason I got hired here is that Normand knew me and my expertise. If Maxlink is toast, I am toast.”

Serge does look serene as he sips his espresso. “Let’s just wait to see what they say at the meeting. Maybe we’ll get a good severance package. If I start day-trading full time, I could parlay it into a small fortune in a couple of months. I can work for myself and not have to rely on anyone else. You should try it too!”

“You don’t have a six-figure mortgage that starts with a two. You just rent. You could also move back to Montreal where it’s cheaper. I can’t take a risk like that. I’d need to find a blue-chip full-time job. Maybe I should go back and work for a bank. Or an oil company. You don’t see them going bust.”   

We take the elevator up to the empty space on the 23rd floor, which was earmarked for the telecom operations room. Which has yet to show any sign of existing. There are no chairs, just standing room, and there’s a computer projector on a table at the front, aimed at the blank wall. Everyone’s in a huddle with their department cohort. Serge and I claim a patch of floor near the back.

The clutches of groups part like a sea when Joel, the CEO and company founder, walks through the room followed by his assistant Ewan, who wears the requisite hoodie and Maxlink logoed t-shirt. Nothing happens for a few minutes while Ewan boots up a laptop and turns on the projector. The room is mostly silent while we wait, but it pulses with an undercurrent of both trepidation and anticipation. Maybe we’re all going to get those stock options Normand dangled or a special quarterly bonus.

Handicapped bathroom that I use as my change room. I strip off my bike shorts and t-shirt, sop up my glow with paper towel, and change into an outfit appropriate for a start-up: ombre-striped matching shell and cardigan in decreasing shades of pink. Op-art flowered mini-skirt. Birkenstocks.

Maxlink, where I work, is a nascent telecom company whose mission is to supply the “last-mile internet” to low-rent office buildings. This is going to be accomplished by satellites and thin air. No need for costly infrastructure upgrades! Class C buildings will be able to charge Class B rent! Or something like that. I started here in January, four months ago, to be in charge of documenting business processes so the company will look like it has its act together, so investors will invest. Our offices look impressive from the outside. In the marble-clad reception room, a well-groomed twenty-something wearing a geometric-patterned Diane Von Furstenberg knock-off wrap dress, murmurs quietly into a phone. This is to make us look more established than we are. She’s probably arranging a manicure appointment or rallying her BFFs for Friday cocktails, not intercepting an important call.

1. Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate


Dataline’s Toronto office is in a low-rise industrial loft-like space, long before industrial loft-like workplaces are a thing. The windows are sixteen-pane safety-glass panels held together by black wrought-iron mullions. My interview is with Don Kennedy, vice president of operations. I walk up six stairs from the parking lot to the front door. I’m wearing my best interview clothes: a grey skirt suit I got on sale, a blue-striped dress shirt I bought from the boys’ department, nylons, and grey pumps. I stumbled on the children’s department shirt-shopping thing by accident, after too many attempts to buy something that wasn’t a frilly blouse. My pitch-brown hair is cut in a Dorothy Hamill wedge that I’m trying to grow out. Dorothy is so 1976 and here we are six months away from 198 0. I carry a brand-new leather briefcase. Completely empty. Not even a sandwich inside.

Fenella, Don’s secretary, comes to collect me. She’s exactly my height and weight and probably struggles just as much as I do to keep above one hundred pounds. Her blond hair is in a bun secured by a scrunchy, and her silk blouse and wide trousers are both black. She has a clipped English accent

and an aloof manner. Don must be very important. Fenella presses the elevator button and we wait in uncomfortable silence for five minutes until the elevator arrives. I guess she doesn’t want to reveal company secrets to someone who doesn’t work here yet. The door opens excruciatingly slowly and we squish into a space that could fit four people with maximum discomfort. Fenella presses the up button and the elevator lurches, stalls, then proceeds on its ascent.

“That’s a relief,” she says. “I was stuck in here for most of the day yesterday.” The elevator eventually makes it up to the second floor. The door opens on a room that’s dotted with workspaces

I assume are for the worker bees, hived off by curved four-foot-tall cloth dividers covered in what looks like indoor-outdoor carpet, but the orange kind not the green kind. The dividers are perched on squat metal feet that are angled directly toward the door. Maybe the dividers are smarter than anyone in this room. The executive offices hug the exterior cinder-block walls, each with a full view of the parking lot. This is not as fancy as it sounds.

The cavernous space is lit by warehouse lights suspended from the fifteen-foot ceiling. Their ribbed industrial glass domes create elongated circles on the floor, as welcoming as searchlights. Fenella and I walk across the room, while men’s heads pop up above the cubicle walls like groundhogs checking to see if spring has arrived. Apparently, girls in suits are as rare in these parts as swaths of sunshine in February.

Fenella ushers me into Don’s office and smiles enigmatically. Don’s short-sleeve dress shirt is accented with a wide tie decorated with orange and pink Hawaiian flowers. His credenza holds a tray overrun with bottles of booze, a random selection of crystal glassware, and a silver ice bucket.

His desk has one of those green felt blotters trimmed with leather, which I kind of thought had gone out with the fountain pen, but it’s partially obscured by a computer terminal, so maybe it’s meant to be ironic. Don’s round black ashtray, as big as a hubcap, takes up the rest of the desk. At this moment, there’s room for maybe one more butt if someone’s completely desperate to stamp out a smoke.

“Have a seat,” Don says. I unclench my grip from the handles of my briefcase, set it on the floor in front of Don’s desk, and arrange myself with a confident ballet posture aligned with the straight back of the minimalist wooden guest chair. My narrow wool skirt has slits on either side. This seemed like a good idea because they make it easier to walk. I have never sat in this suit. I feel the cold wood on my legs and look down to see that, when sitting in a way I consider to be proper, the slits create a thigh aperture almost all the way to my waist. I slide forward to the edge of the chair and rearrange my legs by crossing them at the ankles. Don is too immersed in his monologue to notice. At least I dearly hope so.

“Let me tell you about the company,” Don says. “Dataline was formed three years ago when Joe, our founder, saw an opportunity to provide economical computing power to companies that can’t afford their own computer. It’s a new business model called timesharing. The way it works is that we have a bunch of types of business software, for accounting and expense reporting and stuff. We rent out the software, the computing power required to run it, and a place to store the data. We also install the terminals so the customers can access the computers, and train them how to use the software we provide. I think the best way to picture it is this: we own the razors and the razorblades. And everyone needs to shave!”

He seems very pleased with his analogy. “Your resume says you know Fortran, right?”

“Yes,” I say. “I haven’t used it in a while, though.” Actually, I barely used it in the first place.

This must be the place

I am a girl between two boys. My older brother has just graduated from kindergarten and my younger brother has not yet graduated from diapers. Our two-tone green Mercury Meteor has bench seats and the subdued version of tail fins that signals the segue into the more streamlined 1960s automotive silhouette. All three of us kids are probably rattling around in the back. Seatbelts are not yet standard or even luxury equipment in 1958 Mercuries. My baby brother might actually be in the front seat wheel well in his bassinet, ready to become a compact projectile. Sometime in the near future, when we graduate to a Plymouth Valiant station wagon, he’ll have a car seat that clips to the top of the bench, complete with a steering wheel and a horn. The horn is definitely not a good design feature, nor is the placement of the child seat. But that’s not a hazard for today. We have plenty of other ones.

The speedometer probably goes all the way to seventy. The road sign suggests about half that and we’re lucky to achieve the legal maximum on the downhills. We’re headed west to Ontario in 1960 to my dad’s new job at somewhere called “the plant.” The moving van is a day behind us. If I was tall enough to see out the window, I would see an endless stretch of farmland with row upon row of bales of hay. It smells like cow doo-doo. “Fresh country air,” my dad says, and he laughs uproariously like this is supposed to be funny. Like he hasn’t said it about a hundred times since we got in the car.

We’re emigrating from Quebec dairy country south of Montreal, where both my parents’ families have lived since before Canada was born. I’m a little perplexed by the notion

of moving since I don’t remember moving before. I’m reluctantly along for the ride, like a cat in a travel carrier, cranky and complaining at first, then settling down into an uneasy truce with the inevitable and unknowable that comes with relocating to somewhere new.

My mother packed a lunch like she always does. There are no restaurants along the highway anyhow. We pull over to a rest stop with picnic tables and toilets. The toilets are the kind with wooden saloon doors and a gap between the roof and the wall to ensure maximum habitat for flies and spiders as big as dinner plates, at least as far as I’m concerned. If you choose the picnic table downwind from the “rest” facilities, it actually doesn’t stink that bad.

My mother is a dietitian. After the oil cloth goes on the table and we all wash our hands from the hand pump at the well, a lunch covering all of the required food groups emerges. There are carrot and celery sticks, which we stick up our noses or turn into orange fangs. We do not eat them. There are bologna and mustard sandwiches on white bread with crusts and iceberg lettuce. I do not like bologna. My brother does not like crusts. The baby gums Cheerios and slobbers on the oil cloth. We drink water from the well pump that tastes like rust and smells like rotten eggs. But at least it’s fun to pump the water. Probably more water than strictly necessary. “You kids stop horsing around and acting like morons,” Dad says.

There are hermit cookies full of raisins for dessert. You can squish them nicely in to a ball and the raisins will pop out. “You kids smarten up and stop playing with your food,”

Dad says. “And go to the bathroom. We’re not stopping again.” I do not go to the bathroom.

We stay at a motel for the night. The motel is just off the highway, as anonymous and innocuous as any other motel. Perhaps with one letter burned out: OTEL or MOTE. At certain times of the year there is probably a pool. Not this time of year. I’ve never been to a motel before. I’m concerned that our new house doesn’t have a kitchen and I’ll have to share a bed with my smelly brothers. This is not turning out very good.

We get to eat dinner at the diner. My grilled cheese sandwich has the right kind of orange cheese and squished crusts. My vanilla milkshake comes in a tall, V-shaped glass, and I also get the metal container from the milkshake machine with the bits that won’t fit in the glass. My tongue would stick to it if I licked it but I know way better than that. It only takes once to know better than that. The milkshake is so thick it makes a really good slurping noise with the straw. I’m sure my dad wants to conjure up a Scotch. Or three or four Scotches.

We don’t get to eat breakfast at the diner, though. My mother has packed breakfast. It’s a Kellogg’s Variety Pack of individual cereal packages. There are five of us and eight little boxes of breakfast, which would seem to be an appropriate abundance of choice. But a cereal variety pack has only one box of Frosted Flakes. One of my tactics is to pretend to want the Raisin Bran and hope my older brother will fight me over it so I’ll end up with the Frosted Flakes. But even if he doesn’t take the bait, Raisin Bran isn’t that bad, because the raisins are covered in sugar. I open the fancy flap on the box and my mother pours in some milk. The milk makes the raisins rise to the top. I count three lousy raisins. I eat the raisins, let the bran flakes get soggy, then refuse to eat them. So there.

The town of Deep River is as brand new as it could possibly be. It was whacked out of the bush north of Algonquin Park in the wilds of Canada by German prisoners of war in 1944 to house the employees of the newly established Chalk River Nuclear Research Laboratories. Like my dad. And our nuclear family. When we finally roll into town, our real new house is a blue bungalow. Beside a beige bungalow, beside a yellow bungalow, beside a white bungalow. It is barely fifteen years since the town sprang fully formed from the forest. The moving van arrives, along with our television set, although a reliable TV signal won’t get there for another two years.

Seventeen children swarm out of the seven houses on our curve of Newton Crescent. Having one child pretty much indicates you are just getting started. Only two children is a little stingy. Three is a good round number. Four is okay too, especially if there are twins in the mix. Five is pointing towards Catholicism. After that you are on your own.

We are as free range as organic hens. Everything outside our front doors is fair game for games. There are no fences between the yards and we flow from one to another as if through a porous pool of play. We are a whirl of arms and legs and striped t-shirts and pink skorts and scabby knees.