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.

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Meeting Musicians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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?

The Right Record at the Right Time.

I hadn’t listened to Ryan Adams & the Cardinals’ album “Cardinology” in a really long time. I have mixed feelings about the album – there are some real gems but as a huge fan of Adams, I definitely think it’s one of the weaker efforts. After a day where I’ve been feeling a bit down and pensive, I really felt the need to put on something that would take me back to another place and time when I was feeling similarly. Sometimes music can give you answers and guidance and hope and faith that you didn’t know you could have until listening to something from your past.

“Cardinology” is a healing album; it’s an album that provides hope, quietly begs for mercy, and tries to advise listeners to relax, keep the faith, keep trying, and don’t give up on love. All the messages that I needed on a day like this.

The last time I immersed myself in this album, I was in the very very last stages of recovering from my very first heartbreak – one that took longer than it should have to stop hurting. The album came out about a year after the day I was so hurt I could scarcely get out of bed without that tinge of sadness that accompanies everything you do and think about as a broken person. In many ways, I kind of felt a bit… lost… this past week, this past month even. Unsure and doubtful and frustrated and ‘behind’ where I’d love to be, where I sometimes feel almost like I ‘should’ be… I returned to that safe place, this album that got me through another hard time of doubt and frustrations. And listening to Ryan Adams sing seemingly to me, “Go easy on yourself” and “Some of us are strong/But the rest of us are weak/So let us down but if you must/Let us down easy, lord” really helped me to put my worries, doubts, frustrations and life into perspective that I really really needed today.

Your favourite artists are confidantes who know what you’re going through, sympathize without judgment and when you look through their back catalogue, they can tell you exactly what you need to hear to feel better. I’m incredibly grateful for the gift an album from 2009, a year that was a transitioning and healing year for me, much like this one has been so far, has given me today. Music is wisdom.

“The One”.

I go back and forth about whether or not there is such a thing as ‘the one’. I was watching this video by the brilliant Tim Minchin who I’ve only just heard of and thinking about whether or not there is just one ‘right’ person for everyone or if just anyone could potentially be the right person if they showed up at the best time.

Sometimes I believe in fate and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I have to believe in fate because it’s the only thing that keeps people going when the world seems too dark to continue on. Sometimes I think that the world is a frightening place that throws unexpected curve balls that are the stuff of nightmares at you and if you have some kind of faith or belief that someone controls the puppet strings of the world, it is easier to forgive, to pray, to hope, to see 11:11 on the clock and close your eyes a little tighter for a private moment of wishing.

Other times I believe there is only randomness of life; because how else could you lose who you thought were your three very best friends when you were certain that you were brought together with those three people through the pure amazingness of fate? And how else could you end up in a place where you never, ever, ever thought you’d be just out of desperation because where you thought you were fated to be completely let you down and filled you with sad disillusionment?

If there is such a thing as ‘the one’ though, it doesn’t mean there’s someone for everyone and only that one person can possibly make you feel completely fulfilled. I think it means they make you feel so good, so complete, so full, so loved, so loving, so much better than you are, that you can’t imagine anyone else filling that role in your life, even if they weren’t handpicked for you from someone out there in the atmosphere guiding everyone’s light.

If ‘the one’ exists, it’s something that you feel inside of you. It’s a story that was written that you happened to read and didn’t share with anyone. What ‘the one’ means, is that you feel like you’re a boat that’s found its light house by accident when maybe you were looking for a different port, or you were completely lost and not looking for a port at all.

I don’t know that there’s one specific person for everyone, but when I sit with my significant other, my partner, my boyfriend, my other half, the person who holds a piece of my soul, and his arm is around me and I’m nestled into the crook of his neck and nothing needs to be said, I feel like there is. I feel like there couldn’t not be.

Love makes you believe in so many things you didn’t think you could ever believe in. It’s a strange mix of anger and passion and comfort and complacency and laughter and tears and fervent belief and fear and trust and cunning. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be this affirmation affiliated with the feeling of believing and understanding love for the very first time.

Is there ‘the one’? If there is, I hope everyone finds their one so they can experience first-hand how I feel right now.