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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What it means to be ‘broken’.

One of my proudest accomplishments has been loving completely. Loving so much it hurts. Bending over backwards for the people I love, sometimes to be ultruistic and sometimes, admittedly, to be selfish. Sometimes love is a selfish act because we consistently want love to fill a hole within ourselves that could never possibly be held as deeply as we want or need it to.

Crushes are like that. When we have a crush on someone we constantly strive to ‘trick’ someone, or coerce someone, or pray for someone, to love us. We wish on shooting stars and on 11:11 with the hope that the universe will change its mind and spark someone to love us when the reality exists that, they don’t love us at all. We love this way because many of us sometimes feel ‘broken’; and maybe, if the person we have placed on this pedestal, returns our affections, it will fill that selfish hole, that selfish need for love, and then all will be better.

I always feel broken. My brokenness knows no bounds. I don’t see myself as pretty, I don’t see myself as someone worth loving, and I pour all my energy into showing affection to those I want to hold onto because I’m worried that one day they’ll wake up and change their mind about me. I have a reason to believe this; my reasoning is that a lot of people I have loved deeply – this deeply, in fact – have left me. Many people in my world — people I’ve dated, friends I’ve had, parent ‘figures’ in my life – have eventually abandoned me, or hurt me, and this has caused me to feel differently about my relationships with others. Abandoned people love differently. Hurt people love differently.

Sometimes I’m amazed that anyone would ‘choose’ me. I’ve gone through life mostly believing and seeing myself as someone who would disappear from view if I wasn’t loud enough. The more I progress in life and relationships, the more I realize that having this vantage point about myself leads to despair and rejection. Because my expectations about myself and others are unrealistic. That I always count on people on some level to make me who I want to be. And others cannot do that: only I can.

I have people in my life now that I love with my entire heart and around whom many of my decisions are based. But I’ve also frequently let down those I love, or have loved because I can be genuinely selfish, genuinely broken, and genuinely feel hard-done-by. The life I live isn’t perfect but sometimes acknowledging my own failings in this way has made me stronger and forced me to strive more for the kind of perfection and the kind of life that will make me rely less on others and more on myself.

Damaged people love indifferently: they love imperfectly. 

Realizations.

I was thinking again. This time, I wasn’t even alone with my thoughts. In fact, my thoughts were accompanied – by good thoughts, by hopes, by a future and present that beats the shit out of the dark and lonely past year I’ve had. In July of this past summer, everything brightens. And, it continues to.

I realized I don’t ‘need’ my partner anymore in the way that I did previously. I ‘want’ him. But last year, I needed him with the kind of desperation that hurt so drastically it induced spurts of negativity that I could never, ever overcome in my previous hard, hard year.

I realized too, my own petty jealousies. Of my ex-best friends that I loved so much, all out in the world without me. I care, I don’t care, I’m angry, I’m ambivalant. It depends on the day, really. Sometimes with female friend fallouts, girls just want to outdo each other. By participating in this incredibly sexist, uncivilized, heavily socialized ritual, we want to win and when we see or feel we’re not winning, it makes us do ugly things and think ugly thoughts. I have enough ugly thoughts. When I feel them coming on now, I’m working on how I can replace them with good things that are happening in the moment as opposed to dwelling on anger.

But it comes up, you know? Sometimes you can’t just hold in anger or move on from it. Sometimes you feel it and whether that’s ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’, sometimes you just feel and you can’t help what you feel. I don’t need to apologize for that.

If my former female friends ever read this, I hope they know and understand that. I hope they’re checking in with themselves sometimes to question their role in what is now a very, very former, strained and full-on negative relationship. I hope what stands still for them are memories. I hope they realize they’re fucking bitches and admittedly, so was I. I hope they realize that what’s missing for me is closure and their unwillingness or inability to provide me with that is what brings me back to this place during times of change. And, I hope they realize that I’m sorry. Not sorry enough to want to reconcile, but sorry I’m the person who’s ousted.

In the past three years, there has been so much change that it’s exhausting. It weighs heavy on my soul, as all I want out of life is to have stability, and know what’s coming all the time. For me that might be incredibly far away. And when I think of that, I look back, as people do. I look back and what I see and feel is a yearning for something that used to be in my life and isn’t anymore. I yearn for simple days of getting up for class half an hour beforehand, pulling on some ugly dated jeans and running off to class, then heading back to my room in residence to my adult summer camp. I yearn for walking into my creative writing class and looking around the room at the most talented and wonderful group of people I knew then, and thinking that my future was in the arts. I yearn for the moment I decided to change my life and realized that I could. I yearn for that moment when I got off the plane in a tropical country for the first time in my life with my best friend beside me to revel in the best reading week ever. All of that was sacred — is sacred. And it’s gone. But it was still certain. And isn’t it still?

Why is Pride Important?

In light of the #heterosexualpride hashtag trending on Twitter, in light of the Orlando, FL massacre, in light of countless instances of institutionalized and individualized homophobia, is this question even worth asking?

Recently, a friend of mine who is marrying his boyfriend in a year from now was booking wedding photographers. Once the photographer found out it was a ‘gay wedding’ she declined the offer because as this photographer said so pointedly, they only do ‘legitimate weddings.’

Another friend of mine was once kicked out of a youth group because it was discovered that she was gay.

While I don’t have any close trans gendered friends, it comes to mind that I have students in my classes sometimes poking fun at Caitlyn Jenner.

Do I really want to press on bruises of the LGBTQ community by bringing up all the instances of prejudice and discrimination that are thrown in that community’s face every single day? Can you really ask someone who would spew this kind of hatred why pride is important? Is it true what Brian Kinney said on Queer as Folk, that “there are two kinds of straight people in this world — the ones who hate you to your face, and the ones who hate you behind your back”? I don’t believe that last statement for a moment. But, if you are a member of this beautiful, diverse, amazingly familial community that faces this kind of disgusting and somehow socially acceptable discrimination, can you blame someone for believing this?

Pride is important because every life deserves equality. Pride is important because of the alarmingly high suicide rate among LGBTQ teenagers. Pride is important because to this day, it is still considered somewhat acceptable to call someone a ‘sissy’, to hashtag ‘#nohomo’, to proclaim to men that being gay is the worst thing they can possibly be. Because people are afraid to come out to their friends and family because of how they might be perceived differently by those who love and care for them. Because trans-gendered people are arguably THE most discriminated group of individuals on this planet.

Pride is more than just a celebration of homosexuality; it is a celebration of diversity and of its importance. Pride is about being proud to be different and sticking it to the bullies, and the bigots. I’ve participated in pride celebrations not as a gay woman but as an ally, and despite being an outsider in that community, I felt completely at home because despite that the LGBTQ community is one that often experiences hate, never responds with anything except love.

Pride is important because it gives voice to the voiceless, no matter who they are and how they identify.

Two Years.

It is four days until my second anniversary.

I didn’t ever really think that I would be able to be with someone for two years. In some ways, two years feels like a lifetime and in other ways it’s amazing it hasn’t been longer.

The thing about love is this: all love is beautiful. It is illuminating, surprising, deep, frustrating, confusing, messy, complex, life-affirming, and joyous. It is something that changes the course of your values, your goals, your dreams, and yourself – but for the better. Love is all around us in everything we do. And it’s all beautiful. I would never sit here and make the claim that love I have or found is better or more significant than anyone else’s love.

But the love I have is something that’s sustained so many difficulties; demanding careers that eat up everyone’s time; frustrating nights alone when all I want is to be with the person I care for the most; utter mental breakdowns at the loss of what is, and what should or could be if we were just a little bit closer, if everything was just a little bit easier, if we were just a little more in sync in terms of location. This second year has been a year of driving, careening into ditches during storms, feeling like I’m drowning in a depressive messy state, emptying my pockets for the sake of being a huge part of every minute that I’m fortunate enough to spend with the person I love most. Honestly, it’s been so hard. And there were times I was completely discouraged and wanted to fall flat on my face and then just give up. But it’s worthwhile. Love is worthwhile. It’s the most worthwhile thing in the world. I’ll be grateful for this love forever. I wake up grateful for it every single day.

The last two years have been years of flux, of mental anguish, of huge changes in life, culture shocks, meeting new friends and leaving old ones behind, of uncertainty and frustration and insecurity and disappointment, and tough realizations. All of this is a parot of growing up and are harsh reminders that what they said to us as children is often true: that growing up sucks. But the constant force through everything, whether we were driving to the states together and pausing in sweet little towns and drinking at local breweries, or sleeping in the front seats of my car after waking up at 5:00 a.m. to catch a ferry to Vancouver Island, or whether I’m crying on his bed because I don’t want to go back to the horrible place where I live. Everything was slipping out of my hands in this lucid, liquid form. Except him. He was always there for me, through everything, buying me pizza when I felt like I failed at everything; waking up for a moment in the morning so he could put his arm around me before going back to sleep; comforting me in the middle of the night if my teeth grinding woke him up; telling me I look beautiful when I feel like garbage about myself.

I’m so grateful for these two years and as difficult and frustrating and depressing as they were, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I got to spend two years supporting and being supported by the person who loves me when I can’t mustre up the courage to love myself, who cares for me in a way no one else has ever been, and who has truly been a pillar, a permanent thread in the tapestry of my life,  a lighthouse for my ship. He means everything to me. I’m so fortunate.

5 Embarrassing, Unlikely Songs that have Inspired Me.

Sometimes it’s the songs from artists who tell our life stories, whose lyrics are so good we’re jealous of them, that inspire change and comfort in our lives.

Sometimes it’s horrendously bad, and/or temporary, and/or fluffy silly am radio-esque songs that make us take a step back and think about or re-think about our lives, relationships, breakups and emotions. Here are a few of those in my life.

Cher – Believe.

One of the first (at least that I can recall) songs that had a heavy, obvious and purposeful pre-Kanye use of auto-tune was also one that I listened to on repeat following my first breakup with my first love. That was a dark time but every day, the sun shone a little bit brighter until I was fully recovered from the blow of rejection and the pain of thinking I would never be happy again. Cher reminds listeners that there is “life after love.” Not only that, but she leaves us with the empowering message that even if you’re sad someone is leaving, you can and must, and WILL move on. AND, not only that but she heeds the warning that “after all is said and done /You’re going to be the lonely one.” This has proven to be true. And comforting in a strange way that makes me feel slightly pink but also like a stronger version of my 20-year old heartbroken self.

Taylor Swift – Shake it Off

All those bloggers and instagrammers and tweeters who have adopted the mantra “haters gonna hate” are right. What’s ‘wrong’ about this message is how it is said in so many ways and in so many contexts, that it has somehow lost its meaning (and the poor grammar and made-up words and canned inspirational quotes and everything else that makes social media all too often less than inspiring). But, Taylor speaks some important truths in this song. If you’re constantly thinking about all the bad things and people who hate you and failures and mistakes, you’re never going to move forward in life and enjoy what is actually good. This message kind of goes without saying but when it’s said in such a way that is so peppy, accessible and irresistable, it reinvigorates a more or less ‘cliche’ kind of message.

Jojo – Too Little, Too Late

I hope I’m not the only person on the internet who remembers Jojo. She was a reality show contestant-turned-fifteen-minutes-of-famer and had a couple of hit hip hop-flavoured pop songs in the mid-2000s, including this one. The song is essentially about letting people back in who have wronged us. Jojo says, “don’t.” It’s funny because I’m someone whose exes have all come back, or tried to. And there was a time when I used to let poisonous people back in. I did it so many times I became a door mat who was stressed, anxious, annoyed, and confused by hurtful people (exes, and friends as well). And whenever I’d get a message from an ex eons later, for whatever reason Jojo’s soulful little voice and the message from this catchy pop jam would sneak into my head. And I would write off that message. If you didn’t want to be good to me the first time, why would you a second time?

Leanne Rimes – We Can

What ever happened to Le Ann Rimes? Anyway, this song made an appearance on the “Legally Blonde 2” soundtrack (which could be on a list of silly movies that are inspiring somehow) and it seeks to very obviously and purposefully rouse up inspiration and a ‘let’s do it’ attitude both in melody and in lyrics. Sometimes these attempts are inspiration are cheesy and laughable and sometimes they work. Here, they work enough that this song makes it onto my running playlist and as I’m sweating, I think “Hey, I can do this!”

Justin Bieber – One Less Lonely Girl

Childhood is a precious little thing. And when we have that first moment of sexual awakening, even if it’s just an innocent crush, then a little piece of our childhood in one way is over, but in another way that sweet innocent look we give love as we imagine it to be, the non-complicated fairytale where that cute guy takes you to the dance and kisses you under the stars and makes all your problems go away – is just beginning. This song, and its singer in his pop star hay day, perfectly and beautifully encapsulate that moment. That special, special moment when you look up and see him and everything changes. Going back to that innocence recaptures something lost and broken and it makes you smile from the inside out. I absolutely love this song for that reason. We get so caught up in problems and relationship struggles and complications of life and love. Let’s just have flowers and puppies for a day.

Aloneness.

Time is going slowly, for a weekend. The weather is balmy for March in northern Alberta. I’m sitting by myself having just taken a post-gym shower after taking my sweet time to get myself out of bed, drag myself to the gym in the first place, and rage-sweat to a workout I didn’t want to do but felt like I ‘should’. These are the kind of weekends I love once in a while. My loved ones are gone, I get to spend time alone without feeling pulled in any other direction except my own. I don’t have some big family gathering, but today I don’t want one. Today I want to walk around in the sun and listen to my favourite songs and enjoy complete solitude, with the occasional smile at a passerby.

Some of my best, most amazing memories have been times when I spent time by myself, just me, and my headphones, or a live show. I do stuff alone all time and the first few times I did this, I was driven to do so not out of the desire to be alone but out of the desire to do something else so badly, I didn’t care if I was alone or not. Since those times I sometimes seek out the enjoyment of solitary activities and I revel in that time. Concerts are fantastic alone; walks are the best when you’re by yourself sometimes. Music sounds better when you can sing it loud as all hell in the car on a lone drive. I love these moments. They’re memories, inside jokes, private laughs and contemplation that I have just with me. Nobody else knows or cares about them. There’s a collectiveness you feel with strangers even without speaking to them, and there’s inner peace and bliss.