“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.

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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.

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.

Saturday Reflections.

Today, I was thinking about Halloween in the past. I remember that time that my friends and I all went on on actual Halloween which was a Tuesday or something, and there was actually nobody else around, costumed or otherwise, except for us. And as we walked home from a quiet and kind of anti-climactic going-out-on-Halloween experience, we saw these two groups of people, both dressed as Tetris blocks, across the street from each other, dumbfounded that they’d happened to see each other. One of them shouted out, “WHAT ARE THE ODDS!?” and back then in my second year of undergrad, that was a story we remembered for weeks.

And maybe friendships are just a series of interconnected stories, an anthology of when I knew you and you knew me, and these poignant, funny, odd little moments still live in both of us, and we still tell them from time to time. And even if we’re no longer in each other’s lives, those moments are the very fine, very brittle threads that keep us interconnected anyways, even if we feel angry.