Rest in Peace, Chester Bennington.

I haven’t written in a while, because a lack of work and an influx of relaxation spells a decrease in inspiration to write.

I just wanted to quickly touch base about Chester Bennington’s sudden death.

It breaks my heart that there are people out there who suffer so greatly, that they feel removing themselves from lives they’ve built is their only out from the terrible debilitating pain they feel every day. Successful people, perhaps in the eyes of the every-person, ‘should’ be happy – they have everything, right? Money, success, a chance to do what they love every day and be paid handsomely for it – but the reality of depression is that if you are not happy, you are not happy, and that is that.

I have not been truly ‘depressed’ and pretending I have been is an insult to people everywhere who suffer from actual depressiion. But I have some problems with the way I see myself and how I come across to others. I have a problem internalizing painful things that have happened in my life – so often, they’re road blocks I can’t let go of. I think about them every day. I miss the past. I can’t reclaim or do anything about the past except try my best to move forward from it and erase the ghosts that are there. I will openly admit to being dumped with a high five by the first person I was ever in love with, suffering abuse as a child, failing several times at career searches and being horrible with money – a very lethal combination that has consistently gotten me in trouble and caused stress, been sexually assaulted on a Tinder date just prior to meeting my extremely loving, wonderful boyfriend and being bullied in high school for my race, my weight, my clothes, my taste in music, and anything else you can imagine. All of these things have messed me up quite a bit. I don’t consider myself someone with a mental illness (again, doing so demeans and diminishes the experiences of those who actually live with mental illness). But I’ve been through stuff.

What gets you through difficult times is whatever you choose to get you through. The support of family and friends is number 1 but it is often not enough, especially if the people who will make you feel better are far away. What has gotten me through my own struggles, has always been music. Music and writing, together or separately. Evidently, I don’t always write. But music is my constant. It is to me, what religious faith is to others.

I find it saddening that someone like Bennington, 41, has chosen to end his life early, particularly because the messages in his songs (I am most familiar with Hybrid Theory) resonate so much with people of all ages, particularly young people, who may have contemplated ending theirs. As adults, we often laugh at the angsty music we listened to as kids – I’ve in the past, made fun of Hybrid Theory and albums like it because of their dated nu-metal sound and overwrought messages and lyrics. But as a teenager, those albums are your life. They demand repeated listens because you have an outlet for the emotions you feel so deeply but are barred from expressing because of this notion that it is uncool, un-invincible, to let out what you’re feeling and truly be who you are through open doors.

Chester Bennington is a figure in music that we always took for granted would be there, that people my age have fond memories of, and who has gotten many through their own troubled times and crushing blows and depression. His was the kind of music that helped people found light because of its darkness. While yes, some of what they have done was a bit cheesy and dated and dramatic, but teenagers need that kind of music. They always have, and they always will.

So rest peacefully, Chester Bennington. And know you, nor almost anyone else on this earth, are not, and never will be alone in the world.

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.

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.

“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.

Places that Shaped Me.

Everyone has “special places” in their lives that they think of during difficult times. I’ve felt displaced so often in the last year and a half, that finding those places again has felt like clinging to a cliff face desperately trying to keep a hold on some solid ground but constantly feeling like I’m falling. I haven’t felt ‘at home’ in a ‘place’ since I left Vancouver in the summer of 2015. It’s been a long road home since then; so long I don’t really know what “home”, or the concept of “home” really looks or feels like anymore. I’m just kind of floating through space and time wondering when that feeling of comfort will take me back in again from the rainy doorstep on which I stand.

But lately I’ve had the fortunate opportunity of visiting old places again. I’ve been back in areas of Edmonton where I used to live, the gym I used to hold a membership for, the apartments I once lived in, and everywhere I look in those places, I see ghosts of former homes that were once mine, lifetimes and lifetimes ago.

Some of those places include:

The Don Wheaton Y.M.C.A. In 2010-2011, I lost almost 80lb and actually, I have kept most of that weight off. The Don Wheaton YMCA was my first gym; it was the first time I had ever stepped onto a treadmill or a bike, the first time I had ever done a fitness class, the first time I ever realized that much of my potential, my efforts, my self-esteem could be so vastly planted and grown. And it was, in this building. Sometimes, despite that it’s a $15 drop-in fee, I’ll still choose to work out there.

The University of Alberta. I continuously tell my students that my years at University of Alberta were the absolute best five years of my life. University is so much more than just a great education; it’s diversity, truths, learning who you are, what you believe, how you think, how you cope, how to pick your poison, and how to (and how not to) fall in love and make friends. The  U of A is so much more than just a school. It for me, was home. Haven. Safety. Fun. Adventure. Loss. Love. Stress. Rewards. Every building of that campus holds a significant memory for me; Wednesday and Tuesday RATT nights, where we tried to bribe the bartender to be on the regulars board (RATT was also where I had my horrid first-ever kiss); HUB mall where I would see my first love and chit-chat before class and I’d be blushing and trying not to make an idiot of myself the entire time; the Central Academic Building where I used to skip my introductory Anthropology class just so I could have lunch with three of my best friends from my floor; the Education building, where I also used to meet my friends twice a week for epic lunch dates with those epic, epic sandwiches; Biological Sciences, that ugly old hot mess of a building, the source of many of campus’ urban legends and stories and lore — before I ever even went to campus, I knew about Bio-Sci. And the one or two times I had to venture in there, I found much of the stories to be true, at least in a minor capacity. The University of Alberta was, is, and always will be a home for me. I wouldn’t be me, without the green and gold part of me.

Blackbyrd Myoozik. The first time I ever set foot in a record store, it was this one, back in 2005. I had $50 in the bank and spent $35 of that on “Cold Roses” on vinyl and I never regretted it. This object with its embossed gatefold cover, those shiny black grooves and sunset-coloured label. It was my first vinyl and obviously not my last. Whenever I’m on Whyte Avenue, I just enjoy spending time in this place. It is what I consider to be my first record store, one of the best record stores ever, and a staple of my Edmonton life and what ended up being my identity by the time my twenties were over.

My first real apartment. Back when my two friends and I first rented an apartment that wasn’t a residence, we all shared this reasonably sized, clean two-bedroom unit right behind Whyte Avenue with a balcony. It was $750/month, split three ways. In that apartment I discovered what it meant to ‘adult’ – to cook, to clean, to share, to compromise, to get annoyed with people you live with but love them anyway, to put up with shit, or not, and finally when I left I was ready to go because sometimes roommates and friends are different things and if you’d like to preserve the former, the latter has to be finished. I’m still friends (VERY close friends, actually) with the two friends I shared my first real apartment with.

O’Byrnes Irish Pub. Dancing, getting drunk, making out with sketchy randoms on New Year’s Eve, requesting lame songs from the 1970s and 80s, meeting a guy I went on a date with who never called me again, finding out about a friend of a friend’s illegitimate child while we all squealed about the amazing piece of gossip we’d just come upon, the bar where my sister and her husband had their first date, the bar where a former friend betrayed the shit out of me by going on a semi-kind of date with the guy who smashed the shit out of my heart, the bar where they have the most amazing fries and curry dip, the bar where I had my first Guiness, so many St. Patrick’s Days, Halloweens, birthdays, sing-alongs, random makeouts, wild nights that didn’t end until 3 a.m… O’Byrnes is the bar that for me, holds the most memories. In many ways, it was my Central Perk, by McLaren’s.

 

10 Defining Moments of My Twenties.

In counting down the days of this full, sometimes seemingly endless, confusing decade of indulgence, harsh lessons, stupidity and eventually finding my way out of this cave with a helmet and a light, here are ten (at least relatively) vivid moments of my twenties that made me who I am today.

Being placed on an academic notice during my teaching degree. 

It’s true what they say sometimes: the best lessons to learn are also the hardest. When I entered the teaching profession, I stupidly assumed that kids just ‘listen’ to their teachers and respect them because there’s an adult at the front of the room talking to them. I was wrong, and my confidence was shattered and so I was placed on an academic notice during one of the most stressful times in my life. When this happened, my Faculty Associate told me, “I’m not doing this because I don’t think you have potential. I’m doing this because I believe you can do this. But you need a kick in the butt so you believe you can do this too.” This woman is the best teacher in the world and someone I aspire to be like, because she was so right. And when I heard those words I realized, this is not just a ‘teacher me’ thing. This is a ‘me’ thing. Hearing that from someone I trusted, liked and respected meant everything in that moment.

Being heartbroken – really heartbroken – for the first time.

When I was 21, the heartbreak I experienced seemed to follow me around like a Grim. I couldn’t push past it or mend it or fix it, and I especially couldn’t make sense of it. What had happened to me was wrong; it wasn’t supposed to end like that. This person I was so crazy about, who finally returned my affections, had ended things so quickly. It was like the sky had fallen. Looking back now, that was ridiculous; he owed me nothing, it was a silly situation to place myself into, there’s no such thing as ‘the one’, and even if there was, that useless, snivelling jackass was certainly NOT him. But as soon as this happened, this horrible ugly thing I had never felt before, I remember writing something in my journal like: “I’m alone now and now I have to stand on my own two feet and push through all of this.” I felt like that was the moment I grew up and I had to pick up up all my My Little Ponies off the floor and put them away. I had grown up.

My Bachelor of Arts graduation ceremony.

University was a bubble. It was a glorious, wonderful, easy place to be where everyone is young, every day is a possibility, you can make adult choices in a safe environment, and everything feels optimistic, and possible. My undergraduate degree years at the University of Alberta were some of the best days of my entire life – full of life, energy, excitement, possibility, and most of all, fun. I loved every good, bad, heart-wrenching, hilarious difficult minute of my time at the U of A, and my graduation ceremony was a culmination of all of those things. I remember marching into the auditorium and hearing Pomp & Circumstance, and thinking: this is what I’ve worked for for five years. This means everything to me.

My major friend breakup.

Your twenties are full of deciding what’s good and worth holding onto, and what’s worth letting go of. And sometimes you think someone or something is the former, then you are slapped so far into reality that you fall over. That happened to me. I’m not going to get into the whole story again and lament about it again. But the fact remains, what happened between me and my former best friends – who were like sisters to me – in instants, changed my beliefs and philosophies about friendships, about what good friendship is, and isn’t, and what fault I have or had in this messy divorce-like moment.

The first time I heard, and said, “I love you”.

Seattle, 2014. It was cold out and windy and frost-glazed leaves’ edges crisped in the bitter breeze. We were walking together, my hand in his hand, in his jacket pocket before he swirled me around to face him and he looked at me and said, “I love you, you know that?” The world stopped. It was like being born again.

The first time I saw Ryan Adams/Meeting Ryan Adams.

Only a few select people actually get to stare their heroes in the face and engage with them in a place other than on a record or from a theatre seat. I was one of those people on a magical night in Vancouver on July 29, 2016. This was my first of seven (so far) Ryan Adams shows I’ve seen. I’ve never simultaneously felt so big and so small as I did that night.

The first time I was referred to as someone’s ‘girlfriend’.

I spent most of my twenties being single, and so the term ‘girlfriend’ in reference to me, hit me like a ton of bricks. It was kind of shocking, it was kind of awesome, it was kind of distant, as if me and this ‘girlfriend’ were two different parts of the same person strewn across a field somewhere. I remember the exact moment I first heard it: we were at the Vancouver Fringe Festival beer gardens which was essentially a huge theatre crowd party in which my boyfriend is/was very much immersed. And the first person we ran into that I didn’t know, he introduced me as “my girlfriend”. I was floored.

My first A+ in Creative Writing.

Everyone has a talent. I wanted mine to be creative writing for as long as I can remember. I used to tell people when I was in elementary school and junior high that I wanted to be “an author” and I’ve loved stories since I was old enough to listen to them. But, I never let anyone read my work. One of the first times I did, and it was for a grade, I was absolutely petrified. And when I got it back and checked my grade it was A+ I was absolutely ecstatic. It was as my calling appeared before me in the form of a letter and a mathematical symbol. I remember coming home drunk that night and freaking out before my half-asleep roommates. It truly is one of the best feelings in the world to be recognized for your passion.

My first visit to a tropical place.

Natural beauty has always been a preoccupation for me (perhaps because I grew up in one of the most scenic areas in the world) but never before 2008 had I ever been to a tropical place. It was -38 when we left, and snowing. They, several times, had to de-ice the plane and plow the tarmac. Then we took off and hours later, arrived in humid heat where, on the first night in the dark, we splashed in the waves and looked out over the blackness of the water and up at the billions of visible stars. It was a break – from life, from crippling unrequited love I was facing at the time, from the cold, from myself. I was giggling and giddy without trying.

My first time going to a concert alone.

Disclaimer: my first time going to a concert alone was also the time I met/saw Ryan Adams live for the first time. But aside from feeling small in the presence of an idol and hero and indirect, unintentional biographer of my life it also opened up this world of independence to me. A world where I don’t feel like I need the company of others to live my life the way I want to and enjoy myself, the world where I don’t care what people around me think about this. If I like something or want something, I do it.

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?