My Summer To-Do List

Summer, ever since I became a teacher, gives me enormous freedom to do so many things that I want to do. It’s almost overwhelming. This summer my goals are surrounding a few things: experiences, running, and taking advantage of the sheer joy of extra guilt-free time. Here is my list (if they are in bold, it means I’ve already done them since drafting this list):

  1. Run a 10 km race
  2. Go camping for a weekend; prepare amazing food and prepare barbecue-worthy food to make whilst camping for a weekend
  3. Visit several breweries
  4. Continue strength training throughout June
  5. Go on a hike in Elk Island National Park; take advantage of the Discovery Pass as well as taking advantage of the fact that there is a day trip-distance-away national park near Edmonton
  6. Try 3-5 new restaurants in Edmonton; but not all at once
  7. Run two half-marathons (including the Rocky Mountain Soap Company marathon that I completed May 27)
  8. Visit friends, and wineries (I’m fortunate enough in my life that I can do both of these things at the same time)
  9. Read 10 books (bonus points for more than 10 books)
  10. Decorate my new classroom so it shines with educational fervor and some kind of permanence (shelves of books displayed cover-out, calendar with birthdays, posters, pictures, a lamp for ambience… I have big plans!)
  11. Write a short story
  12. Make something I’ve never made before

CBC’s Anne: A Fantastic Portrayal of 21st Century Young Women in the late 19th Century.

So many “strong female protagonists” are written, created, and adapted by men. While of course it is possible and certainly fantastic for men to work towards writing a strong female lead, the female leads written by and about women are truly special. Sometimes it just takes a woman to write a woman’s story. Hermione Granger is a good example of a heroine who has so many, if not all the faculties of a clever, strong female lead. Created by JK Rowling, we have someone who is lauded and celebrated for her intelligence and as the story of Harry Potter progresses, Hermione develops and hones skills of strength, deception, and fist-wielding of her male peers.

Anne of Green Gables was originally published in 1908 by Lucy Maud Montgomery. While I don’t know much about Montgomery, I know her upbringing was lonely and she relied on her imagination during times of solitude; I know that she was attractive and had many suitors in the Cavendish area and led a very romantic life, much like the beautiful and clever female characters in her books; I know that she suffered through bouts of depression which, like many people who live with depression, used her imagination and gift to make millions of people happy and wistful, and write about colourful, happy-go-lucky images, places, and people. What I don’t know about Lucy was what she believed to be important about women’s agency, whether she believed in women’s suffrage, whether she cared (or believed) her version of Anne was a “strong female lead.”

CBC has re-adapted Anne of Green Gables, entitled “Anne” in Canada and “Anne with an E” on American Netflix. The series is wonderful. Amybeth McNulty is a wonderful actress who brings agency, depth, pathos and vibrancy to an already classic and well-drawn character. The stories are adapted from the novel but bring a certain modern edge to the character; we get a glimpse of how/why she relies so fervently on her imagination and we get a glimpse of where she obtained her strong mindedness, temper and maturity.

What is very noticeable about the show though is how amazing it is at representing strong females.

There is a scene in Anne when the girls at the school are privately discussing their ‘womanly flowering time’ and Diana tells Anne that women should never talk about it because it’s a “shameful thing”. Anne, who was not brought up in so-called ‘propiety’ doesn’t understand why this is an issue.

Furthermore, there is a scene where Marilla insists the male hired hand, Jerry, accompany her on a journey into town and Anne insists going alone because she believes it to be a “heroic journey” that she must complete by herself. We the viewers know that Anne can, and will, accomplish this journey on her own; however, it is society that disallows this. Later, it is Jerry that becomes the ‘victim’ in the town adventure. And Anne must be the ‘rescuer’ of sorts.

In one episode, Anne refers to Diana’s spinster aunt as someone she looks up to; an idol or hero of sorts. While she debates leaving school due to bullying and her own personal troubles, she realizes after speaking with a priest that she wants to follow her own path; and sees herself in the future as so much more than someone who will be a wife and a homemaker.

In this new version of the story, Anne feels like the modern heroine and the rest of Avonlea society comes across as the ones who are backwards, hold onto old ideas, and place women in boxes. It is them who must adapt to Anne.

In addition to the beautiful and heroic qualities Anne possesses as a character, the show does a beautiful job at representing all women of all sizes and ages, each one with an important role to play in a society within the school and the community, which makes the fictional 1890s Avonlea very real and believable.

When one reads the credits, you will see mostly women’s names – everyone from the directors, to producers, to the writer/creator Moira Walley-Beckett, has contributed to creating a female-centric story not just about the friendships, struggles, yearnings and world of women,  but for women as well. This is no surprise. A show like this is something of a treasure for progressive women. It is a show that adults and young women can watch and feel inspired to embrace female strength as they may have before they were aware of the ways society crushes such spirit in young women.

Does Anne have romance and romantic wishes in her life? Is she vain? Yes, she is. Much like the Anne from the original novel. However, these are qualities that well-rounded women are entitled to have as well. There is a myth that strong female leads cannot have romance. To me, the difference is that strong female leads want but don’t need romance to look or feel whole and complete; but, weak traditional female leads solely exist for the purpose of male desire.

This a fantastic series. And all young women should watch it.

What does it mean to “love yourself”?

I just read this article about Demi Lovato getting flack for promoting detox tea and claiming that ‘getting rid of the bloat for summer’ isn’t “loving yourself”. Which led me to ask this question about what exactly that means.

I’ve dieted on and off for years. At my tiniest ever, I was 116 lb. To be honest, I can’t believe I ever weighed that much. When I walked down the street dudes honked at me, I got attention in bars, I could wear size 2 jeans, all for a few glorious months before I realized I like food and craft beer way too much to maintain being this tiny. And eventually all of that faded away. Not that “guys honking at you” is any indication of hotness, or that you should glean confidence from that. But I can say, those same guys who honked at me when I was a size 2 were teasing and bullying me when I was a size 18 and weighed 200lb. I was the same person. This says more about society than it does about me, or even the guys.

I dieted, not because I wanted that kind of attention from men. I dieted because I wanted to be the best version of myself. Because I wanted to look in the mirror and for once, not see someone out of control she’s unable to regain, not someone who floats through life just doing the same old shit all the time, but someone who bothered to try to be someone else, even if just for a while. I became that person. For the first time, I did feel confident. In a lot of ways, I attribute finding my first and second careers, meeting the love of my life, ditching old ‘friends’ that were toxic influences on my ability to be a good person and look for the best in others, and running 2 half-marathons with another coming up in 3 weeks, all to my initial weight loss (thank you, Weight Watchers, for this – I will always be grateful for it). I dieted to prove wrong an ex that I somehow believed then, needed to be proven wrong. And I did prove him wrong, in my own way.

Now, I’m ‘dieting’ again (Weight Watchers, and the current program I’m on, refer to this not as a “diet” but a “lifestyle change” – this is somewhat true too, I suppose). I’m dieting this time, and on a very strict and actually very painful fitness regimen, not because I ‘hated myself’ before and this was the only way out. But because I remembered those long ago days where I felt confident, I felt like the best version of me, I felt like the world was at my fingertips and I had so much possibility just based on this radiant confidence alone. I’m dieting because I want to work harder to reach a personal best and achieve personal goals, now that some of my career goals have been met, and I have the time and energy to work on these goals. I’m ‘dieting’ because I want to learn more about how to be a better version of me.

Having said that — am I being ‘body-negative’? Would you or could you argue that I’m changing myself in order to become more attractive to men? That I’m submitting to a patriarchal standard of beauty that must be crushed? Should I have protected what I so believe to be true about body positivity and being and doing what you want without feeling a guilt about not conforming what magazine standards of beauty suggest is the most important way to be? Am I being a negative role model to young girls I teach by dieting and exercising 5-6 times a week? It’s a conundrum.

Some people believe “loving yourself” means eating cleanly and making positive changes. Others believe that eating what you want and not caring what you look like, dress like, or come across like to others is the way to be the best version of yourself you can be and that is what it means to ‘love yourself’.

Both of these ‘theories’, are bullshit.

Loving yourself means being and doing what you are comfortable with without giving a fuck what other people want or expect from you. If Demi wants to get rid of her bloat for summer, that means she is entitled to that. To me, what is slimy about the post was the promo code – advertising to your younger followers is the only “wrong” thing she did with that post, if anything – but really, reaching a personal best in anything – an eating contest, a triathalon, a gaming marathon, the highest score in Frogger – is truly an important part of loving yourself. I’ve been on both sides of the coin – overweight and desperate for body-positive validation to avoid that patriarchal guilt feeling; fit and working my ass off because I felt like I needed to be that version of myself. And both have made me happy or satisfied at different times of my life for different reasons. We all have our own thresholds. Understanding and realizing our own selves is what helps us to truly LOVE ourselves in all facets of life.

Listen to Demi, or don’t. Loving yourself means that choice is up to you.

Eleven Years Ago.

Eleven years ago I (regrettably, without camera) witnessed with my own two eyes, a win in the final series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs versus my Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes (the latter who, as we all know, ended up winning the cup that year and breaking thousands of hearts in the process).

I can’t believe what a different place the world was then. On a big scale, absolutely — look at Edmonton’s downtown core now; look at the way we communicate – with smartphones and apps and text messaging as a primary mode of chit chat; look at silly things like the look of the team uniforms, the way we can watch on HD television, how you can now sit on a patio and watch a game mounted on a wall somewhere.

But I’ve changed, too. My friend group, my life, the fact that I was still in university and had no idea what I would be, the fact that back then I could barely face watching a game because the anxiety of watching your plucky underdog team at that level of competition was too much and it washed over me like a wave of nerves and fears. One thing about me hasn’t changed in that respect: I still don’t like what’s not certain. What’s not certain still evokes in me anxiety and tremors that are uncontrollable or desirable whatsoever.

I keep thinking about that night. How it feels the same, but different, from the last few games I’ve been to at the bars in today’s Edmonton. How everyone then seemed sure of themselves and doubtless, and now everyone, after eleven years of heartache, seems reproachful and drowning in their own oceans of nerves.

Eleven years passes when you’re not even noticing it’s gone. the world is strange like that. Time flies when you’re busy spending the time that’s flying away. It’s like grasping onto a balloon for as long as you can until you let it go just to see what it looks like as it soars out into the atmosphere.

I hope my team wins again. I hope we can re-experience that confidence, that collective glory, that belief in ourselves as fans, a team, a city. It sounds so ridiculous but it means so much. Eleven years of time means so much, too.

Meeting Musicians.

So often, we’re asked questions like “If you could have coffee with any person, real or fictional, dead or alive, who would you choose?” or, “If you could meet your favourite celebrity, what would you tell them?” And then, when you actually do meet them (like last weekend when I met my favourite author, Heather O’Neill, at Calgary’s WordFest) you say some of the stuff you want to say, but it comes off as fan-girly or fan-boy-y, and then you awkwardly sidestep away from their sight line and move on with your life – you, taking away piles of meaning, significance and change from the encounter, and them, thinking “it’s just another fan saying ‘I’m your #1 fan!'”.

When I met (sort-of) Ryan Adams, it was July 29, 2007 and I was in Vancouver alone at 20 years old, for one night only, to see this concert. I didn’t know anything about the city so I stayed at the airport which seemed like the best idea, and I took a $60 cab ride to Granville St. and loitered around the Commodore Ballroom where the show took place to kind of start lining up (it was general admission). To me then, despite having lived in a city for 3 years, Vancouver felt like Hollywood or New York. It felt big, iconic, scary. All I knew about Vancouver, or thought I knew, was: it had a large population of Asian-Canadians, and I also knew about drugs, Robert Pickton, and East Hastings. I had to reconcile these two stereotypes in my mind, but the latter few made me feel uneasy about hanging out in a downtown full of young transients with scraped-up guitars and sleeping bags and feral dogs and cats, sleeping under the marquees across the street. I didn’t know I’d end up living in Vancouver someday and looking back at all this and laughing about it.

This was my first of what would be many times seeing Ryan Adams live (then with the Cardinals touring the album “Easy Tiger”) and I was at the peak of this obsession I had/have(?) with Ryan Adams’ music. I had a technical writing student internship that summer and spent lull days in the cold basement where my cubicle was, being irresponsible and lazy and sometimes hung over, making a definitive list of my favourite Adams’ A and B-sides, listening to all his albums over and over again, thinking deeply about lyrics like “If I don’t believe in love, then I don’t believe in you, and I do.” It was romance and sadness before I had ever experienced the romance of sadness, or what it means to truly be heartbroken. I had never dated anyone, never been in love, and never truly understood the feelings of this music. But Ryan Adams made me feel like I did. I could grieve with him as I listened to his self-proclaimed “sad bastard songs”. And then, just like that, I got a ticket to see him live. And it was incredible.

After the show, I attempted to meet Ryan Adams. I did this a lot back then, as it had panned out for me a few times at smaller gigs I went to. I would wait by the back doors or the exclusive entrance, bring a sharpie and a CD jacket, and rehearse what to say. And I met a few bands this way such as: Travis, Kasabian, The Trews, Bright Eyes, Yellowcard, and JET. I waited for Ryan Adams for a long time, with people I had met while in line for the show. He did eventually come out the doors and was swarmed by silly drunk people. When my new friends and I approached him we were aloof and sat on the curb, and we then ended up going to 7 Eleven with him, making small talk, and being thanked by him for coming to the show. I wanted to say so much. I wanted to freak out. What prevented me from freaking out was wanting desperately for the fan girl inside to not be the fan girl outside. I wanted to be cooler than that. I didn’t take photos or ask for an autograph or gush about how I was “his biggest fan!” I was too afraid, and too shy, and in the end, my friends and family know of this encounter as this strange and hazy personal legend. It happened, though there’s no proof.

If this could happen again, I would do my best to find a moment to say something real to the person whose music has been the constant and almost in some ways biblical emotional force of my solitary life. Words are never really enough to convey this unless you have hours to sit down and hat and ask all the questions you’ve ever wanted to ask. I always think about why that is. Perhaps it’s because we interact with the music we love individually and compressing that experience into the phrase, “I’m your number 1 fan!” seems trite and impersonal. But telling the person in great detail how/why you love them is also a strange thing to tell someone all this who’s standing right in front of you.

Meeting your favourite celebrities does this strange thing where the lines blur between reality and fantasy, between what plays out in your head and what is an actual person and an actual moment. We all want it and then when it happens, we don’t really know what to do. Except try and savour the moment. Maybe try and sum up how significant that person has made us, despite that they’re not in our life.


I hate March… or do I?

March and I have been long-standing enemies, ever since the unspeakable incidents of 2008 that I don’t need to mention again. I hate the weather, the memories, the associations, the fact that March is supposedly almost ‘spring’ and yet the last two weks in this city, there has been nothing close to spring -and all I can see around me is snow and shitty roads and gray and dark mornings. March makes me angry.

But —

Today I left the house and it was a warm wind that could only mean spring is on the horizon like a thin strip of light on the dark morning that I could just barely see on the horizon on my long, long commute to work. I was thinking about more positive memories of this month in past Marches – the ending of my teaching practicum which led to me receiving my teaching certificate; the first concert I went to with my best friend, 12 years later; spring break; coming back to outdoor running after months of leaving it (mostly) behind; and, the happiness knowing that I’ve left things behind. In lieu of new things that are on the horizon.

It’s okay now. I hope this is the last of -30, and I hope this is the last of broken hearts, or even the shreds of them. It’s still astounding how over time, wounds disappear until you scarcely notice that they’re gone.

Review: “Prisoner” by Ryan Adams

I preface this “review” (if you can call it that – there wasn’t really anything better to call it) by saying that ever since I first heard the song New York, New York by Ryan Adams way back in the day when it appeared on an MTV 2 compilation I got from Columbia House (good times, amirite?) I have been a fan of Mr. Ryan Adams. My connection with his music and in some ways with him as a person deepened significantly in 2005 and ever since then, I have considered his music a pillar in my life. Good music can do amazing things for those who connect with it. What that looks like varies from person to person, but anyways, that’s another story for another day.

So, let’s talk about “Prisoner”.

Upon first listen, songs like “Doomsday” and “Do You Still Love Me” have this dark, gritty 1980s heartland rock feel that is a dash of punk rock, the tiniest smudge of alt-country, and a plethora of Smiths and Springsteen influence. None of which is surprising, as Adams is often cited in music magazines which get millions of times the readership this blog will ever get, as “wearing his influences on his sleeve”. Songs like these open a new door for Adams, that of abandoning the more straight-up country music stylings, Willie Nelson collaborations, and sprawling Grateful Dead summer jams, in favour of something modern and fuzzy and rough. I like this. I like it because it is Ryan showing once again he will not be confined by genre or what people ‘expect’ him to be. He makes music for himself, to express himself in ways he wants to, and gets to release that music on his labels. Ryan Adams is the master of his own domain. It’s authentic and I love that about him as an artist.

Genre-bending aside, there are other things in “Prisoner” to talk about that are more near and dear to me than analyzing music (although analyzing music too, is very near and dear to me).

“Prisoner” is a divorce album.

In creating such a deeply personal album, I am reminded of Heartbreaker-era Ryan Adams songs. They’re songs written by(?) and for(?) someone who is transitioning to a new part of their life, in new places, and leaving people and versions of themselves behind in a process. As someone who has undergone so much fucking change in the last two years it’s unfathomable (living in suitcases, driving to and from different cities every weekend, changing jobs, changing friends, changing cars, changing colleagues), that sense of standing at the precipice and fully realizing “everything is different now, and now I have to face the rest of this alone” is something I’ve become familiar with in so many manifestations of my life.

On the title track, Ryan Adams points out a bird perching by the prison bars and says, “How can something born with wings/never know freedom to truly be free”. In a simple line like this, Ryan Adams has set up a dichotomy between knowing what it takes to be free and not being able to, versus a ‘free’ creature who can’t know or appreciate the ease of being free. He has also attributed this question about freedom’s true appreciation and definition to himself and the listener. He then repeats the idea of “I know loving you is wrong”. I hear this and I think about my first ‘breakup’, a moment when the pull between being ‘trapped’ in love with someone who would never love me back, and also at the same time, wanting to be in love with them, feeling thus, like a criminal and a prisoner. In this song, Ryan Adams is suddenly me, you, and all of us. But also, while being deeply, deeply personal. How does someone do this? If I knew, I’d be a more successful writer than I am right now.

Shiver and Shake is a sparse, devastating account of a loss so great, you can almost see it like sand slipping through Adams’ fingers. Again, I think of the feeling of losing someone near and dear to one’s life. That feeling of being caught between memories and loneliness, of imagining the worst, checking your phone, lying in bed alone feeling the lost presence of someone… it’s all there in just a few short minutes of pain. Like a burst of aching moments after everything feels okay again. Again, feelings I know well that are long since buried and when I listen to this song they flare up again as if those heartbreaks were still fresh and I’m still 22 years old. The first time I heard this song, I cried some tears while I drove to work and reflected on losses in my life and how they made me feel.

I can’t close this “review” off without talking about Outbound Train, which is probably one of my now-top favourite Adams songs ever. I could say all kinds of maybe eloquent, semi-smart things about this song but I am going to start with saying, OMG I FREAKING LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS SONG! Breath. First of all, imagery. Images like “Lost inside the void of the fading tail lights” and “I feel this aching in my chest, rolling ’round like a pile of bones” are vivid and true. The line that hits the deepest is when Adams laments that “Walls are all cracked, The fan stutters in the room, Where we slept, Where I woke up next to you”. The music dies down but heartbeat drums pound lowly as he says this line, as if it’s a sudden realization among a flurry of aching sadness hitting someone all at the same time. Genius. This arrangement is genuis. Secondly, train-like beats and travelling brakeman aesthetic litter this song, almost remiscent without the outlaw country nostalgia, as Adams song, “Trains”. It’s smart songwriting and arranging that allows for a song’s rhythms and crescendos to somehow match the subject, mood or images within a song.

Ryan Adams is a wicked-smart songwriter. And songs like Outbound Train showcase the best of what he has up his sleeve. He knows songwriting like few other contemporary artists do. He is able to take a subject, a line, a hook, a riff, and turn it seemingly instantly, into something amazing. If you see him live, he is able to take an audience comment or something that randomly happens and transform it into a hilarious, rhyming, mostly full-fledged song. People like him live and breathe music. He knows it, he loves it, he’s passionate about it, and he is a master of what he does.

But more than that, Ryan Adams brings back painful and joyful memories for me as a person. He reminds me of what it means to appreciate those you love. He helps me to reminisce about my youth while seeing the utmost importance of standing on my own as an adult. This record is something that came along for me when I wanted and needed it the most. So on top of its greatness, it seems to seek out parts of ourselves that we weren’t sure were there anymore.