My Christmas and/or End-of-2016 Message.

This as not a good year. We lost so much. We lost hope, progress, artistry, homes, lives, families, and so much else. I think of Fort McMurray burning to the ground, cars vacating through a monsoon of ash, a veritable cliff of fire. I think of praying for the first female president and not realizing how badly I wanted to live that historic moment before I saw it dramatically slip away. I think of David Bowie, one of the most creative ingenues of our time, gone. And Leonard Cohen. And Prince. And every other brilliantly  creative, smart, wonderful soul, famous and not famous, who are no longer with us as we count down to 2016 in these precious final days.

I think of how personally, my year was filled, at least in the beginning, with catastrophic emotional distress. I remember the day I left Edmonton after Christmas break last year and getting home realizing I had no idea there were so many tears. Another monsoon, this one of tears that fell from un-fulfilled wishes, loneliness that was so heavy it forced me onto the ground and I couldn’t rise up, not for hours. I was jealous and bitter at my beautiful partner for having so much of what I didn’t – success, family, friends, a certain kind of career comfort level, accolades… and there I was, living in a place I hated, alone, with an apartment consisting of my belongings strewn on the floor, with not even a couch. The darkness of that place. The chill. The lack of life, mine or anyone else’s. And there I was, stranded. Feeling like a failure as a partner, a teacher, a woman. That lasted for months. It began then, it ended in June, and I was off.

As summer bloomed and progressed, I still had little, but I made the most of my time with friends, family, and love. My sister got married, my partner’s brother got married, friends got engaged, I drove 22 1/2 hours from Seattle to Spokane, through Idaho, up through the Kootenays, through the Crowsnest Pass, and back through southern Alberta, all in a day. I ran my second half-marathon with mixed results. I returned to the place I loved for three glorious weeks and visited the coast, friends, sunshine. Then I returned to work in September and depended upon the immense kindness of extended family who were so good to me in my weeks of transitioning to a move to Red Deer, Alberta (another move). My world was different again. Better, this time. MUCH better. And suddenly, I too saw success, accolades, a certain kind of career comfort level, family, friends… but I was still away, still stranded, still at times letting that monsoon all go, still wanting to be where I belong.

And then, it happened.

What was 2016 about? What is Christmas about? To me, both of them are about a perfect and true amalgamation of the past and present. We are visited by three ghosts every holiday season – all of us are. We revisit ghosts of the past year, our past memories – for better or for worse – and are reminded of what is good, what was bad, and what joys or sorrows have returned again. We are visited by Christmas Present – a reminder of those who have less than we do, especially around the holidays, a reminder of who is important in our lives, and a chance to tell everyone we care about just how much they mean to us. And we’re confronted with Christmas Future –  a glimpse ahead of what could potentially happen in the new year, and what change we want, and what changes we’re fatigued by. We always feel like we have this golden opportunity for reinvention. It’s January 1 and suddenly we join gyms, download budget apps, apply for new career opportunities, throw out all the packs of cigarettes in the house. Dump the vodka down the sink. Do these things last? Sometimes. But it’s the hope. It’s the hope that it will.

To anyone who reads this, my Christmas message is this:

Revisit the past without dwelling on it. Be fair to those who in retrospect are either villainous or overly heroic in your own present-day eyes. Enjoy memories with clear-eyed hindsight and sympathy.

Revel in the present because next year, the present too, shall be a memory. The more you enjoy the present, the better that memory will be. The more you enjoy the present, the more you will appreciate the abundance of family, food, drinks, friends and joy that surround you this holiday season, no matter how big or small that abundance may be.

And, consider the future lightly – without pressure, expectation or demand. Give the future space to breathe while still maintaining an aura of mystery.

Happy Holidays. Happy New Year.

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“Home”.

Life is full of lessons.

We see them plastered on bathroom walls, we hear them from our teachers, mentors, parents, friends. We see them in the form of pretty, artfully decorated quotes on social media. We are always absorbing concrete lessons, tiny pieces of information, like flecks of edible gold on the dessert that is our lives.

It is oft-said that the most important of these lessons, are in addition, the hardest to learn. And that lessons have to be understood, felt, in order to be learned. I could sit and talk at someone for hours about their horrible boyfriend, the job they complain about constantly, the friend who is always taking advantage of their money or time. But until they live those consequences – innately and deeply feel and absorb them to the core of their mind, body or soul… that lesson will still be tough to understand and appreciate. Any other lessons, advice, quotes, are all just smoke and mirrors, lies, illusions, unless they are felt, followed.

For the last two years, I have been struggling to figure out what possible lesson being stressed, bored, closed-in, away from loved ones, and drowning in sorrow and bitterness have taught me. “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” seems too trite and obvious. And anyway, often that is not true. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you feel like you’re holding onto the edge but that edge is slipping away beneath your fingers until there is nothing left to hold. If there is a ‘God’, I don’t know what His plan is for me, to have to be so miserable in this, my life, the precious few years of my twenties and early thirties where I should still have vibrancy and hope, and I shouldn’t be jaded and bitter and curled up in the fetal position every sleepless night, waiting for some magical ‘way out’ of my situation. Being happy where you’re at without reaching for happiness out in the distance and being grateful for the ‘good’ things in life might be another lesson that one could pull from this dreary cesspool of sadness. But, at the end of the day, none of this seems to be enough.

But the other day, I had a conversation.

My beautiful boyfriend has called Vancouver ‘home’ for ten years before moving home in 2015 to pursue teaching and save money. That December, he was ripped away from the comforting confines of friends, a twenty-something lifestyle of fun and weeknight drinking, a neighbourhood and apartment he loved, a girlfriend who was starting a short-term contract job in January, all for the sake of finding stability. And at times, he’s so grateful for that stability because of the success he feels, the income, the permanence, something he’s never had in the Neverland that is Vancouver. And yet, he’s still left without those amazing friends, the neighbourhood, the apartment that smells like home, the familiarity of your favourite hangouts, that walk to the bus stop every morning, friends just dropping by out of nowhere on their own way home from their coffee shop job.

Vancouver was home for me too, but only for a short time. And while I miss the city – its beauty, the Stanley Park seawall, my own favourite restaurants and views and bars and daily walks and my own sunny, cozy, ocean view apartment, I remember how it was for me at times when I had that 3-month contract job; I hated the commute every morning because it was an hour on that crowded train and I would often be seasick or tired; I felt useless and frustrated at my job there because I never had any work. I literally felt sometimes, that I was paid to do nothing. And while some believe that’s ‘living the dream’, it is lonely to feel so undervalued in your day-to-day life. I’d rather have been paid nothing at all, and spent each precious hour of each precious day doing what I wanted to do and going where I wanted to go. My friends left during that time and approaching summer, most of them had moved to try and find their own definition of stability. Back to Alberta, to Ontario, to the Kootenays… unfortunately, everywhere is more ‘stable’ than Vancouver. I worked my own precious ‘stable’ job, using the income I had to travel back and forth between Edmonton and Vancouver on weekends, to visit the person I loved with all my heart. I had collected every WestJet on-flight magazine. My heart would flare up with passion and excitement at the prospect of each and every one of these weekends. Heading back to Vancouver wasn’t ever difficult; but it was nevertheless, painful. Leaving the person you love is never, ever, not painful.

These days, I keep feeling as though I left ‘home’ when I left Vancouver. And even sometimes, while I was enjoying the vigor and excitement of Vancouver, I did still feel like Edmonton was ‘home’ and I had left it for this lack of security, this monstrosity of wealth and poverty, this sickness of wondering when I would find stability again like the stability I had with my career, my life, my friends, back in Alberta.

And then I lived in Edson. And now I live in Red Deer. Places where my family is far away, where I live alone in mostly-empty apartments, places where I exist without living, just for the sake of making the living that I don’t have a use for at home. I don’t go out. I don’t leave the house. I don’t do anything, because I have no one to do it with. I’ve gotten so in the habit of being at home all the time, I’ve changed as a person. I used to go home to sleep. Now I barely enjoy leaving the house, even to go grab the milk I forgot on the way home. And I miss the people I love, the people who bring me vibrance and vigor and happiness, the people that I can talk to for hours and not run out of things to talk about, the person I want to kiss goodnight every night for the rest of my life.

The important lesson to learn from all this is also trite, but one of the most valuable lessons I have ever, or could ever, learn: home is not a place; it’s a person. Home is sitting on the couch with the person you love, one of you watching TV, one of you surfing the internet, both of you in neat and perfect silent comfort; home is those late-night talks following watching The Bachelor with your best friend. Home is board games with your siblings. Home is going out to your favourite karaoke bars with the people you loved hanging out with in high school, doing crosswords at the Second Cup that was down the street from where you lived when you were 19, home is Oilers games and drinks with friends and knowing where you’re going when you get in the car.

Home is the best thing there is. No matter what it looks like, who it entails, what the cost is to obtain it, who you spend time with. HOME is not just a silly concept that you sew into a needlepoint and hang on the wall; it is everything.

And so, when you don’t have a home, physical or metaphorical, you have nothing.

cynicism.

I have been cynical about many things for a long time. And sometimes my cynicism has been proven incorrect. And sometimes not.

I stopped believing in “love” and then I met the person who proved me wrong; that love does exist, but it’s finding the person to love you and who loves you in return, is a journey of soul-searching, openness and acceptance.

I stopped believing in “bffs” because my two best friends stabbed me deeply, multiple times, and not just in the back. But then after some reflecting I realized I do have “bffs” – three of them. And they’ve been my friends since the beginning of my adult life, the beginning of my life as a city girl, who saw me through the challenging times and who I can trust and tell anything to. And they may not have been the “bffs” I thought were in my life, but they are even better and I shouldn’t take old friendships for granted just because of the ebbs and flows and locations they transition through.

I was cynical about the world; about people; about the government, and war, and when truths about the planet and disenfranchised people would be uncovered. And then Barack Obama was elected. And now I feel cynical all over again that someone who is even worse than George W. Bush has been elected, and now sits in the drivers’ seat of the most powerful vehicle on the planet. And now my cynicism runs deep and full and sad. It has made me suspicious and angry and frustrated and perplexed. What gives me hope are outlets for our pain; artists, comedians, sympathetic ears online and in person, and the fact that there are marches of thousands who refuse to accept or believe that Trump is theirs. And yet, still, I am cynical.

I’m cynical because I’m stuck out here in a life I hate because financially, I can’t have the life I want. And nobody deserves that life more than me. I want to wake up next to the person I love every single day. It’s all I want but seems impossible to ask for, or hope for, at this point. I watch my happiness, my exciting life, my vibrancy, my youth, slipping away because I threw it all away for a career that I wanted, which is one of the most competitive career fields, one where people like me are constantly griping like I am, about the lack of work, the lack of ‘good’ options. It’s exhausting.

So I say a silent prayer (though I’m not religious) for someone, or something, to take the cynical pieces of me and transform them into floating feathers that will soar into the sky when carried by the wind. It’s all I have right now and I need something soft and uplifting to keep me moving forward.

 

I’m Done.

With March being a significant month in my personal history there’s always this little bit of pain that accompanies this time of the year. While the rest of the world becomes brighter and warmer and lighter by this time, I always feel a little lost and impatient. Nowhere near as much as I did eight years ago (has it really been eight already?!) but still, only a little. I’ve found though that as time passes and things change, so do those feelings and anxieties and pains that accompany that first “real” love.

I’ve tried recently to put this into words… to release again, my reflections and thoughts and feelings about first love, about who I was before I knew anything about the world, where I’m at now versus where I was eight years ago emotionally, physically, inwardly.

But I can’t anymore. It feels like an old tired cliche. It feels like an exhausted empty shell that you put your ear to and can’t hear the ocean anymore. In short… I just don’t care. I’m tired of this same old story over and over and over again. It feels like a ghost of my past is living inside me sometimes. But at the same time, that ghost has less and less of its unfinished business. And now there’s just nothing there except a wisp in the dusty corners of my heart. Sometimes I do feel that I need to consistently remind myself of the important markers of my personal history. My demons and angels and the things that have most made me me. And other times I realize what’s done is done. There’s nothing left to explore except the present, the future, the moments that are yet to come that are bigger and more important and actually worthwhile to talk about and think about.

I once sat on a bench and thought of nothing but you in the most sorrow-filed, darkest way imaginable. The darkness I felt about us, and you, became reasons I hated myself and reasons why I wanted to hurt myself and harm myself and torture myself. I listened to “She Wants to Play Hearts” again and again while I looked down over the new snow-blanketed valley, its vast emptiness and deadness almost symbolic of the exhausting, empty, despicable hole in my heart. Everything was different that evening. Everything had changed in my life. I had changed. It was the first time I ever really had changed, ever. It was the first time I was ever really left in the dark and unsupported until I would have to find my own answer just to get through what had happened. The person who sat on that bench that night, is not me. And that’s all I need to really say about that.

Memories I wish I could re-live.

There are so many days I wish I could go back to, or rewind back and watch again as if I’m re-watching my favourite movie. I’ve been thinking about a few of them today that give me chills with their resonance and those memories are keeping me strong and motivated this week.

  1. The first time I heard “I love you” was one of the most magical feelings I’ve ever felt. While it never gets old to hear it every day, that first time I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. It was something  I could sense was coming and I didn’t know when. But he picked the most perfect moment. If I could re-live that a hundred thousand times, I would.
  2. The first time I kissed someone I actually liked (and, at the time, thought I was in love with) ended so poorly, I don’t even want to get into it. But now that I’m at a safe distance and I can look at this moment with the pure innocent nostalgia that I think the Good Lord intended me to feel for this moment later in life, I’m perfectly satisfied saying I’d love to re-live it. It was another cold nighttime kiss (I apparently love those) but snow fell around us and I could almost envision this moment before it even happened. The moment led me on a string of horrible heartbreaking pain but it was all worth it for that few seconds of awkward, teeth-clicking, bag-of-trash-sitting-outside-his-apartment-door magic.
  3. Concerts, even if you see the band multiple times, are experiences that cannot be repeated; you can’t redo the set list, the moment, the feelings, the people around you, the joy. The two shows that stand out to me as the ones I’d most want to re-live are the most recent time I saw Ryan Adams at the Orpheum in Vancouver, and the very first time I saw Ryan Adams & the Cardinals in Vancouver back in 2007. There was nothing quite like that first time; having been at my peak of Ryan Adams’ music, I think my whole body went into shock when I saw him for the first time. I can barely remember it. Fast forward eight years to the most recent Ryan Adams concert-going experience, Ryan Adams, injured with a broken rib, pained his way through a full band set until opting to go acoustic so he could finish up the show unscathed. It was sumptuous and full of feeling. I was leaving that city in just a little while and to bid it goodbye in this way, and think of my true love while all of this romantic amazement was happening, were just too much. I was on Cloud Nine for days afterwards.
  4. I wish I could go back and re-live my meal at Mama’s Fish House in Maui, HI every single day. Not only is the restaurant shockingly beautiful and surrounded by the most amazing scenery anywhere around ever, but it was by far the best meal I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.
  5. The first time I ran a half-marathon, I had just moved to Vancouver and I worked so hard that I was in the best shape of my entire life. I can’t believe I was ever that small or that fit or that disciplined. I’m running another one this summer which will demand similar attention and hard work from me (I’m trying to get back there already!) but there’s nothing like that first time. Those last fast strides to the finish line were unreal and I felt so accomplished. I used to be 200lb and a size 18-20. To be able to run all that way in a reasonable time was something I once thought completely unachievable. I felt like I could have climbed Mount Everest afterwards.
  6. This one is a bit odd but I wish I could remember and re-live the first day I woke up not suffering from my first heartbreak. Time eases all wounds (though arguably, never completely heals them in many ways) and all I needed was time. But there must have been a day sometime after the dust settled that I woke up and the first thing I thought of wasn’t him. And I went about my day without feeling those familiar pangs and longings and sadnesses that I could never express without looking like a crazy person who had no right to complain about how my whole heartbreak went down. That day existed. I don’t remember it, but you think I would. If I had to make a guess, it might have been the day after he gave me that birthday gift I politely accepted without hardly a word, as it had been a few months since I decided to let him go and take my life back. I had lost almost 20lb that day. He sat across from me, and I didn’t talk to him. After that, I could have woken up completely free.
  7. The first morning I woke up in my Vancouver apartment, alone, was a surreal feeling that I never thought I’d get to experience and I wish I could re-live so badly. Those days were some of my deepest and most important and most happy. Normally I’m in a good emotional space but a bad physical space. When I lived in Vancouver I was in the best physical space I could ever be in. But my emotions were all over the place. I loved the freedom and excitement of being in one of the biggest and most beautiful cities I know of, being able to live how I wanted and be anonymous and ride the skytrain around every day. I loved waking up and smelling the ocean. I loved going for long, carefree runs in Stanley Park or around the downtown area of the city on days when the fog was too thick and the hills were too big. Occupying that space was the best. Waking up for the first time and not knowing the life that awaited me when I first moved there is something I wish I could sink my feet into once again.
  8. Lastly, I would love to re-live the moment when I saw my boyfriend for the first time after our first three weeks of distance. I got on a plane and I was vibrating the whole time, nervous and anxious and excited and unable to control my emotions. I felt like a caged animal about to be freed from captivity. I was worried things would change between us; I was concerned he wouldn’t love me anymore; I was afraid it would be awkward; I was nervous about how I would react to him. But instead, I was heading down the escalators to the Arrivals part of Edmonton International Airport and and I saw him waiting for me and I ran to him. I thought I was going to knock him over. We were pretty quiet but tightly holding hands the whole way home. Nothing had changed. I was pretty sure then that nothing ever would.

Happiness, Edition 22.

I have to go back to work tomorrow. Mondays are such a blow sometimes. The fluctuation between doing absolutely nothing and being constantly mentally and physically ‘on’ five day a week takes some serious mental and emotional adjustments. And coffee. A TON of coffee.

This weekend I was in my hometown. I only have a small certain amount of time I can be with my parents before I feel like a lazy, regressive, dependent sloth and I need to go home. But I haven’t been back to my hometown since Christmas and right now unseasonable warmth and hectic indecision and stressful thoughts and feelings, plus my partner’s own stresses and busy schedule had us apart this weekend so I could drive out to the mountains.

I heard difficult news to swallow but also had some really nice meals and soaked in some sunshine and talked a lot with my mom about said-difficult news. And I almost shared more of my own difficulties but decided in the end, that it wasn’t the ‘right’ time. Sure enough, upon sharing tough news with my boyfriend he called me and cheered me up because he’s the best.

I am reminded of the Pixar film, “Inside Out” because I believe empathy and comfort during really tough times are the exact-right mixture of happy and sad that are necessary to get through things that aren’t so pleasant to swallow. Going home this weekend was a mix of good and bad feelings and good and bad times, but at the end of the day I feel refreshed having taken a break from the city, I suppose. I’ll go back to work this week with this idea of empathy stuck in my mind which I hope will make my days easier to handle too.

Happiness #14.

Let’s talk for a moment about ‘adulting.’

There’s this great movie, TV and internet “myth” (maybe it’s a myth… maybe it’s not) of his idea of the quarter-life crisis; of the idea that as young women, we have to be something that resembles fiscally, socially and romantically responsible and stable otherwise we have failed as young people and we will never have children, get married, or inherit the earth. There are books to help us as rolemodels like the characters on The New Girl or Two Broke Girls who are child-like and messed up that we can look to and use to validate our own problems and see that we’re not alone in this difficult world of loss and transition.

I believe that transition has always existed but now in the internet age we can reach out to people and get support and validation for our petty problems and feelings, and this has created a movement or life stage that we have then, forced to give a title or something to. It’s a confusing world for people in their 20s and 30s. Sometimes it’s the kind of world that makes you want to retreat into a dark corner and never come out of. More than ever we need security blankets and inspirational quotes and words of encouragement not just from people we love dearly, but from strangers.

The last few days have been very ‘adult’ days for me. I’ve evaluated my career and relationship future; I attended my first-ever professional convention; I have started the second semester of my career and done so with a lot more control and strength than I ever have, although I was still far from as ‘perfect’ as I want to be. I considered the fact for the first time in a long time that I long so deeply to be perfect and loved or at least liked by everyone all the time, and I want to try and please everyone, thereby tricking them into believing they like me when maybe they don’t. In the last day, I felt all these frustrations and anger I have never felt before really, towards people I love a lot. And when I was drowning in this big scary pity party, I realized something: that everything I’m going through right now and everything I’m thinking right now all comes down to the idea that this is just what adulthood is. It’s these kinds of problems and insecurities and transitions and fears and discomforts and frustrations. I’m out of this honeymoon stage of adulthood where I was able to just do whatever I wanted and pretend like I didn’t want anything more than what I had with my girlfriends and all I did was spend time posting on my silly girlfriends’ walls talking about how they were my “BFFs” (such a concept does not really exist anyways, IMO), and spending mad money on shoes and little trips.

Adulthood is something that’s hit me hard the last year and a half. I’ve had to plan for two; I’ve had to think about how and where I want to continue my career and what my priorities are; I’ve had to make monetary and geographical sacrifices in lieu of other things that I wanted. I keep on continuing to struggle to be heard and understood and sometimes I feel like a kid screaming for that cookie on the top shelf until I turn around and nobody’s home. But these are things I have to put up with in order to get what I want and need out of life.

I’m grateful today fully, for my struggles and frustrations the past few days because they’ve reminded me of what my life is worth. Is it doing exciting engaging fancy things every month? Hell no. And do I wish it was? Absolutely I do. But, I’m not there anymore. And I focus only on the cons of this sometimes, but the pros are important to remember to: I’m starting a professional career; I am learning the realities of standing on my own two feet in the world; I’m learning to grow happiness beneath my feet instead of finding it off in the distance somewhere; I’m not necessarily running from my problems anymore; I’ve given up a lot of that fancy extra stuff for something that, then and now, matters more; and I’ve gotten a big dose of reality. And yes, that came in the form of hardships and challenging conversations with my loved ones. And that fucking sucks. But, at the same time I feel more of the adult I long to be than I ever have.