Favourite Albums Ever.

In light of the difficult news about Gord Downie’s diagnosis, I started thinking about music. The artists I love, the ones that are staples not just in my life but in the musical world, the people like Gord Downie who have produced generations of solidly important songs are records which are so incredibly important to so many people for so many different reasons. I wanted to point out a few of mine from different time periods of my life that have affected me the way artists surely long to affect and make meaningful memories, words of advice, gifts and caring voices for others.

HIGH SCHOOL

The Beatles – The White Album

When I was in high school, I was bullied for listening to my parents’ music (a trend which, of course, now everyone in their late teens and early twenties has come to embrace… of course). The Beatles with this record showed me what it meant to truly be talented and have a gift of music. It was more than just that awe-striking talent though. It was this wavering emotional power, the capturing a time of change and revolution not just lyrically but melodically too; it was Paul McCartney’s voice both crooning on “Martha My Dear” one disc, and yelling out “I GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!” on the next. The Beatles changed everything for me. Suddenly I realized I belonged in another generation, and nothing from my generation could ever be good enough again.

UNDERGRAD

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

Recently re-released, Ryan Adams said in a recent interview that this record was a reflection of stress and uncertainty in his twenties where he was destitute, post-breakp depressed, and wondering what was next in life. When I came upon this record, my place in life was similarly stark and I was constantly searching for meaning. From the moment I heard “To Be Young (is to be Sad, is to be High)” I knew I had found it, at least in part. I cry with this record, laugh with some of it, but mostly just use it to help me reflect and get through the grim times. “Heartbreaker” is everything. It is my biography written by someone else. It is ‘heartbreak’.

Wilco – A Ghost is Born

I first heard Wilco back in 2004. I was in a drama class and this guy I liked introduced me to that lengthy noisy portion of the song “Less Than You Think” that he used for his final presentation for drama class. Later on, I purchased “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” to try and cultivate this undergrad college radio hipster that I badly wanted to be back then. To be honest, I didn’t like the record. It was noisy. It was vibrant. I didn’t quite get the melodies, production, or Tweedy’s voice. I had no idea what songs like “Pot Kettle Black” really meant. It wasn’t until later in life I truly understood the stunningly amazing and powerful raw experimental energy of this band that has come to be one of my all-time favourites. “Ghost” is a more piano and synth-driven collection of songs. It is softer, sadder, less kinetic and electrifying than “Yankee” and I think that’s what I needed at the time I developed an obsession with this record. Wilco often writes songs I don’t ‘get’ and can’t fully relate to. They don’t necessarily speak to where I am in life, or where I long to be. What they do so well though is write melodies that etch themselves into the paper of my life and bring me back to times when all I needed was to put on a record like this and lay on the floor, drifting away.

LOSS

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

There is something lighthearted and summertime-y about this record. And yet, the dark undertones of alcoholism, death and heartbreak retain this record’s intensity beneath the string-laden, rising-and-falling surface. “Astral Weeks” is like a pulse. When you feel it, you know you’re alive. When I coasted through years of settling for less than what I wanted out of life, this record was always there reminding me not to; that everything is more beautiful, more important, more grave, than it seemed. I just had to dig deeper.

Joni Mitchell – Blue

One time, I had a conversation with a now former friend about a recent (but not recent enough for this to actually be a justified comment) breakup and I said, “I just don’t know how I am ever going to push through this.” I was in love. Disgustingly, sickeningly, annoyingly hopelessly in love. And it was unreasonable, unrealistic and ridiculous. Suddenly, I was leaden inside. And then I became addicted to this record. I remember listening to Joni Mitchell say “All good dreamers pass this way some day/Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes” for the first time and thinking, ‘this is my life right now.’ Songs are like tattoos.

Memory Lane.

Yesterday, I walked by the spot of my first kiss for the first time in a couple of years. The spot looked exactly as it did except with summer blooming all around it, and construction down the street polluting what I think of as a quit, romantic little corner of the world with unnecessary noise and the scent of shiny tar.

He doesn’t live there anymore. Beyond those double glass and iron gates into the complex was what was then, a really truly magical and significant moment in my life that’s gone forever, melted away with a freak spring snowfall eight years ago. So much has happened since then. But walking by that spot feels like nothing has changed; that I still live in this neighbourhood. That this is still my place, that it’s still my best friends’ place just down the street, and that he still lives there and by walking by there I might risk running into him and then we’d have to find some way to say hi to one another and pretend that we’re just old friends from some undergrad class.

Your first love, the formative years of your twenties, your ex-best friends, your former neighbourhood, that apartment with the view, that coffee shop that turned into a Chinese restaurant, which turned into a bubble tea bar, which turned back into a coffee shop that’s a shade of what it was back in those happy years when I’d meet my friends there almost every night, are all gone. It occurred to me yesterday that I don’t know a single person who lives there anymore. I don’t know any undergraduate students anymore. I don’t know of any reason why anyone would come back to re-live all these mixed up memories except to wait for a dental appointment that you took a day off to attend and be frozen and scraped at and prodded for nearly two hours. The world is different now. The new one is good too, but different. And the old one seems lifetimes away.

I walked past that spot and remembered that kiss and then I moved on and went home and I was okay. Things are okay now.

Ex-friends.

I had a whole life 7-8 years ago and that life has been completely destroyed. I look back at old photos and think about old memories as if I’m someone looking at the rubble of their former city. I wonder sometimes how I even go to a place in my life when almost everyone and everything that was so important to me — that once made me feel complete, and alive, and safe – dissipated entirely until it was 100% nothing. People that I once shared everything with from jewelry, to Halloweens, to annual birthday trips, are now just old crumbled foundations of buildings – strong, beautiful buildings — that have been burnt to the ground. They’re glimpses of something that is long, long gone as if in an old decrepit and unrelateable photo in a history book. I never expected life to turn out that way.

Losing people so catastrophically, violently and grandly feels like a divorce, a death, a train crash. It’s so much more than just letting events and people and memories go. It’s rebuilding your life, a new life where you have to consider that everyone and everything you trusted, held true and believed so deeply in, was all a big, nasty lie. That there are no such thing as the ‘bffs’ that your first real love told you in his cynical, sardonic tone did not in fact exist. That there’s no such thing as retiring to Palm Springs with your lifelong college mates as Carol Shields suggests in “The Stone Diaries”. That the notion of girlhood and everything associated with it as you believed it, to be washed away as simply as waves dredging rogue seaweed scraps onto barren sand. Losing people this way- with betrayal on one end and yelling and purposeful hurt on the other – is something you don’t really forget. You may not lose sleep over it, but what happens instead is this pang. This realization whenever these people come to mind, that out there in this big wide universe, you have enemies. Enemies that couldn’t even be bothered to make things right. Enemies that talked shit about you on social media in their late twenties. Enemies who at one point cried in your arms because of the boy who ghosted. Enemies who at one point you sent care packages to when they moved across the country. Enemies you texted so often each day that you literally blew up each other’s phones with mundane and frivolous conversations. Enemies that make you an enemy, too. When you never wanted to be ‘enemies’. The most hurtful thing is that you both became enemies. And if you encounter each other again, there will be either death stares, or side eye, or worse: truly, painfully awkward silence. Enemies who are all still as close as anything in the world with one another but who have all decided to kick you to the curb.

Why did this happen? How does this happen? What I lost is different from similar losses. The enemies I have made now were so close with me we received joint wedding invitations; we were never seen apart; when in the same classes during our undergrad years, we literally blew our TA’s mind with our thinking alike and acting alike and laughing alike. We weren’t just friends. We weren’t just friends who had a ‘falling out’. We were family whose family tree rotted, died, turned black, fell apart into irreparable ash. And when I think about it, even for more than the split millisecond I think about each day, I cannot fathom that pain, that shattered dream, that ruined close connection. If I dwell on this for even one split millisecond longer, I get suddenly so angry and sad and confused and ask again: WHY? WHY and HOW do people who were  this close with me, completely disappear? Why can’t things ever be like they were? What happened to the formative years of my twenties and when can or will something replace that notion of girlhood that has been cruelly ripped out of my gut? Why do people get divorced, why do we have to let go of the ones we love so much that an old photo just triggers so much of this incredible anger that I feel towards people that I would have done anything for?

In life now I have the most amazing career someone could ever ask for. I live in a place that doesn’t feel like home but it’s quiet, charming even, and full of incredibly wonderful people. I have a partner who I’ve gone to hell and back with and still value our Friday night dinner dates as much as I did when we were first falling in love. I have reconnected with my oldest friends and realized the qualities they possess, and the qualities they awaken in me, have been more worthwhile and important than I ever realized and that realization has both made me feel guilty, but also made me feel grateful. We can’t have it all, and we can’t sometimes let things go as easily as we’d like but we also can’t ignore the hope that the good things have brought in the wake of what has been broken. The world is incredibly complicated and strange and shocking. There are things that pain and things that heal, and things that lay dormant in the small, cozy caves of your mind before one day out of nowhere they sneak out of their hideaways just long enough to make you feel that pale-faced, hand-shaking anger and springing tears just one more stupid time before you cram them back into the place where they came from. I took a day today to think of and honour those feelings in a way I haven’t really done in a long time.

 

Now I’m going to floss my teeth, and turn on Sports Net, and then go back to the tedium of my idle Tuesday in late April.

On Expecting Too Much.

Sometimes I expect too much of myself. And very often, I expect too much from my partner. I expect that nothing I do would ever piss him off; that I would never be able to be jealous of someone I love and that he wouldn’t see jealousy as a poor quality on my part; I expect that he would never make me feel un-wanted, not even for a second, ever. I expect that he will cater to my every whim, that we can just lollygag around without the pressures of real life ever getting in the way of our ‘perfect love’.

Expecting too much of a partner is a damaging strain. I don’t want to put someone on a pedastol. I want to love them. But sometimes to love someone is to put them on that high high pedastol without even realizing you’re doing it. When I love someone, my first inclination is to give them more than they ever expected but then be offended when they don’t give me as much as I give them, forgetting that some of the time, we don’t get back everything we give.

I forget that I can hurt someone just purely by expecting so much from them. I forget that someone loves me too, in the same way that I love them. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in a partnership who loves, and I’m just decoration on the opposing end of my love for that person. It’s an unrealistic sham. It’s ridiculous. Nobody’s perfect. I’m not perfect. My partner certainly isn’t either.

It’s easy to believe that love knows absolutely no strife, boundless amounts of perfect everything, bliss without any questioning or difficulty. But love. isn’t. easy. I wish it was. But it’s not. And I struggle to maintain this idea that it is, constantly. The world can be an unusually rough place, and love sometimes eases those pains and sometimes makes them greater, or at the very least, just different from taking on those pains alone.

I expect too much. And I need to stop doing that.

I haven’t written in a little while.

This week there is so much on my mind, and so many things going on that I can barely keep everything in my head. I’ve been more tired this week than I have since September or October. I can feel the heftiness of the week weighing down on me, the extreme gratefulness that it is Friday tomorrow. And yet, with the weekend, with the busy upcoming week, I’m worried and nervous about what’s to come.

In my life, as with others’, the expression “when it rains, it pours” seems to be a constant truth. Whether everything good happens at once, or everything bad, or just general numbness and a ‘shutting down’ attitude, a ‘rut’… it all always happens at once. It’s everything, or it’s nothing. I sense good things to come. I hope I’m right.

Anyway, there are too many things to write about. With spring always comes this heavy, brutal nostalgia that I can’t ever seem to shake off. There’s also romance, an impending summer, an impending nervousness about the coming year, romance, work, stress, more insomnia, a longing to return to what was, an aching to move forward, a mysterious cloud that I can’t see through, and one I’m afraid to look into. There’s just so much going on. Good things, scary things, bad things, romantic things, progressive things.

William Shakespeare has been on my mind lately. The following from As You Like It comes to mind: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…” I think of Shakespeare because I am immersed in his language. I think of Shakespeare because in life, we do have so  many parts to play. Even from one minute to the next. Things keep moving. I hope I can move with them. I hope movement manifests itself literally and figuratively. I hope one day soon I can stop living for the weekend.

 

When Adulthood is Hard.

Adulthood is full of brain-racking decisions and all they do is make you long for the times when you were a young, stupid undergrad who could just hide under the covers until all the monsters and ghosts lurking around your bedroom disappeared. There are monsters everywhere as an adult. When you’re a kid an adult will kiss and hug them away. They will tell you lies about the night light or that line you read before you go to sleep will help them all to dissipate. I slept with the light on until I was 14 or 15 years old and I remember waking up in the middle of the night, suddenly realizing that all the lights were off. I would panic, angrily get up and turn all the lights back on and wonder how grown-ups, especially ones who knew and cared about me, could be so cruel as to change the one thing that I needed desperately to remain unchanged.

But after years of shoving them aside, the monsters came back. The monsters came back and then they were bigger and stronger and you had to fight them on your own without another adult, without a night light, with only your wits and resources and any other scraps of anything you had to help you on your way into finding that small coveted piece of security that came so easily once before in the past. Your biggest ally is your strength. Your biggest ally is your ability to recognize how you can fight and win once you’re on your own.

When it all gets too hard, when you cash in all your gusto because you can’t fight anymore, you have to remember that this is how it’s always going to be from now on. Difficult decisions. Hardships. Realities you have to face because you’re too jaded, disillusioned and beaten down to not face them. Your fate relies on someone else – the people who hire, the people who can give love then take it away, your anxiety and depression. That thing you do when you bite the skin on your fingers, that forces you to hide your extremities away from prying eyes. The grinding of teeth at night. The sleeplessness. The world will get the best of you and unlike when you’re young, sometimes even though you’re helpless as a child, no one will treat you like that. Not ever.

Adulthood is one fucking hell of a monster. I want to slay it, and I don’t. I want to run and I don’t. And it’s going to be like this until I stand having conquered all of the demons that make the monsters around me so hard to fight.

Reconnecting with who I am.

After coming back from my first ‘real’ vacation in about two years, I realized that one of the reasons I’ve been struggling so much to be happy and stress-free this past year is because I’ve lost so much of what makes me me. The stuff I love — long, long walks; going to concerts; shopping; rain; being energized by the mere casual presence of interesting strangers; having afternoon beers and/or food with my best friends; looking at the ocean; walking my boyfriend’s dog with him; running; karaoke — is not something I have the time and/or resources to do lately, and so it’s been a tough go since September to not necessarily be able to do these things. I just had my ten days off and did all of these things, and it was beautiful and wonderful and captivating and I felt more like myself than I have in months. I’m disgruntled to be back at work tomorrow after having such wonderful, full days off to do all the things I really and truly love to do but at the same time, my holiday was the motivation I needed to truly be who I was and am meant to be and that’s enough to push through the next few months and think less about what the future holds and think more about who I can be and continue to be right now.