“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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We’re having the “rape culture” converstion. Again.

This year, there has been so many conversations about ‘rape culture’; Jian Ghomeshi’s victims, verdicts of trials, women creating extraordinarily brave open letters to their rapists, run ramped on the internet. Survivor bravery is at its peak, as are memes and gifs and statuses and shares that support victim bravery, whether we know the victims or not. That is the good news.

The “bad news” of all of this is that despite all of this, we are STILL talking about rape culture. We are still lambasting media outlets and misogynistic judges and bystanders who applaud athletic effort over shunning abhorrent, disgusting behaviour of star athletes who rape — and care more about their feelings than that of those they have violated and victimized to the point where they must re-piece their lives, their agency, their sexual freedom and freedom to go to parties with the assumption that ‘nothing will happen.’ Despite positive steps in the right direction, here we are, again, collectively appalled by the results of a sexual assault trial; 6 months for being caught red-handed assaulting an unconscious woman. Because any more than that might have a significantly negative impact on the poor young rapist. And we wonder collectively why more women don’t speak up and stand up to their rapists: why? Because they are forced to be publicly scrutinized, judged, and most importantly, forced to re-live that moment again but this time, in front of everyone including lawyers and judges who clearly don’t give a shit what they have to say. Because the poor young student star athlete is suffering due to his remorseful actions (which he refuses, in the case of Brock Turner, to even acknowledge).

Because the reality of all of this is this: many people say one thing, and do another. They pretend to be male feminists, but they are still at parties taking advantage of women who won’t consent. They say they support and believe survivors, but they shun and isolate friends who have been assaulted and talk shit about them behind their back. They post memes with good intentions but then go on their merry way, ignoring anything that looks suspect at a bar because they don’t want to get involved. Because as long as there are vulnerable people, there will be people who want to take advantage of them and all of these good intentions is all for nothing because at the end of the day, rapists win in court and all the good intentions and combative posting and vehement sharing of posts like Turner’s victim’s powerful open letter to her attacker do nothing. We need to do more. We need to be better. We need to not only acknowledge and empathize with victims, but do more to fight for them, support them, listen to them, ask the right questions, make them feel validated and welcomed and most importantly of all, ‘NORMAL’. Whatever that normal looks like to the survivor.

Words I will never forget are from a former friend who once said to me in faux-concern that “[my] friends all agree that [I] need help” and that she “hopes [I] figure [my] shit out” or I will lose everyone I love. These words haunt me. When I think of them, I think of rape culture. Not from men who assault, but from women whose passive aggressiveness and their ability to attempt to use your own assault to fling back to you in your face, all the shitty things you’ve done and all your own fears of being alone or abnormal or isolated. Sometimes we assume all women and most men do their part to actively combat rape culture because they post positive messages and claim to believe survivors. And then behind closed doors they send a former best friend a private email like this and reveal that they might as well be assaulting girls and women too. This might sound harsh, but as a survivor of sexual assault, that’s how words like that feel: like a dagger in your back, like re-living your attack, by being reminded of how you often feel — as though you are nothing and nobody and it’s your fault that you were victimized.

“Rape culture” is oft-considered a buzz word that doesn’t really mean much because it means so many things. Like many areas of approaching the conversation about sexual assault, it’s best to ask victims how they see and feel and understand this supposed ‘culture’; to me, it is simply this:

Rape culture is the lack of actual support for victims. 

Rape culture is about hypocrisy, people who neglect to truly educate themselves about what survivors go through not just immediately after their assaults but possibly for months, years, decades after; rape culture is claiming to someone’s face that you believe them then going behind their back and gossiping about your “rape” to their friends; rape culture is men who take advantage of vulnerable men and women; rape culture is a lack of actively taking a stance on an individual, global or local scale against sexual assault; rape culture is claiming that women lie to entrap men; rape culture is not listening to the word “no”, and/or not understanding that rape culture is not just about ‘no means no’, but also and importantly, about ‘yes means yes’. Rape culture is isolating victims because you don’t understand them, rather than being supportive in your efforts to try to. Rape culture is acknowledging that the crime of penetration isn’t just about a penis in a vagina – it can be touching, groping, fingering, dry humping or unwanted oral sex but the feelings of the victim can still be the same regardless; all sexual assault is wrong and horrendous, no matter how the public perceives your experiences with assault and measuring it by comparing it to others’ assaults.

If you don’t support survivors, you support rape culture. It’s for this reason, rape culture still persists to this day. And why we all sit here angrily wondering how someone caught RED-HANDED can be sentenced to 6 months in prison. Why someone’s athletic career is prominently featured in an article about the crime they were convicted of. We don’t do enough to believe and support victims. We’re catty, we’re apathetic, we naturally exclude or fear what we don’t understand. We are sometimes people who take advantage of others And when we continue to stoop down to the lowest common denomination of what it means to be human, that’s when we continue a cycle of rape and assault.

 

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.

“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.

 

Happiness Challenge, Lucky 13.

I was trying to find essays to teach my class and in doing so, felt inspired to get back to writing again (in a more formal, thought-out kind of way.. not a “blog what you’re feeling” kind of way). When I write, I feel more like myself. I think sometimes that the part of me that writes is the part of me that feels most like myself…depending on the day. Soul-searching is complex and ever-changing. amiright?

Sometimes when you have the most amazing story to tell, you can’t necessarily find the words to tell it. It’s like there is too much to say and the organization of the story is difficult for that reason. There’s a story on my mind that I think is an amazing one to tell; about my life, and another person’s life, about an amazing an unlikely friendship that I have which was better and more enriching than the friendships I recently lost. Friendship is a hard pill to swallow. It is the kind of relationship that can be confusing and it can make your head hurt and it can force you to keep secrets that the loved and trusted people in your life wouldn’t want you to keep from them. It’s about helping someone against your better judgment maybe, but then realizing later you were glad you took that chance to help that person because you learned so much from them in the end. This story is that kind of story. There is all of that to say in 1,000 or so words and I don’t even know where to begin.

So on Friday when I had a bit of down time and after reading spectacularly good essays by the likes of Joan Didion et. al, I began to write. And for once, I didn’t hate or find hideously awful the events and the way in which I was telling them. My writing goal for the next month or so is to continue chipping away at that story with the hope that I can carve it out of the block of marble that I see right now.

Storytelling helps me become a more positive and well-rounded person. I constantly feel more enriched, more in tune with myself and more okay with the world I’m living in as long as I can see how I feel and the words I’m speaking and the feelings I’m feeling written on paper or a screen or something tangible. Words are like fine wine pouring from a glass that I want to drink when I’m stressed out or unhappy. That was how I found my positive in the last couple of days.

I had a strange dream last night.

I dreamt that I was just about to watch the Game of Thrones season premier when I was cornered out of nowhere by my previous semi-serious boyfriend. He walked in on me while I was changing into my pajamas and then he started hugging and kissing me (which was not very consensual) and he said to me, “I’m so sorry that I never got the opportunity to tell you that I love you.” My dream self was filled to the brim with pity for him. I didn’t want him back. I didn’t want to hurt him. I was just stunned to see him go through such a desperate attempt to ‘win me back’. I didn’t know what to say, so I told him I had to go. I left, and thought long and hard about what to say to him. It broke my heart to have to break someone’s heart, even someone I didn’t love. As all these difficult and painful thoughts ran through my dream self’s mind, I suddenly realized I had abandoned him without saying anything. When I went to find him again he was gone. Someone told me he had gone to the bar to “drink Patron” (my dreams are really weirdly specific sometimes).

That significant other in real life is someone I never ‘closed a door’ with; we just eventually realized (mutually, I’m assuming) that we weren’t right for each other and gave up the facade of spending time together out of some obligation we both felt — maybe because how we met felt fateful; maybe because we had both given so much personal and deeply intimate information to one another. I’m not sure why, but either way it ran its course.

Sometimes life events without closure manifest themselves meanly and deeply in a dream-like state. Something feels undone, unfinished, and it eats away at your subconscious, not necessarily because you care about it, but it’s still there -that nigly little detail in the back of your mind, that thing on the grocery list that you completely forgot about until REM reminded you.

I don’t hurt for my exes anymore. What I hurt for is the worry that I’ve hurt them somehow – that I’ve ghosted the way people have ghosted on me and left them heartbroken so it stings. I’m not an egotist, really. It’s just that I never get that sense of otherness in relationships. I always assume that nobody loves or loved me as much as I love, or loved, them in return. It’s a reminder that sometimes the most painful thing in the world is the potential to hurt someone else, even if – or, especially if – you don’t love them.

I didn’t love him; I never did. I was trepidacious about entering into something resembling a relationship with someone I hardly knew and didn’t have the luxury of spending time with, enough to know how compatible they were. Then there was the incident where he made me walk home by myself late at night from East Van to West Van. And the time when he blew off having tea with me at my apartment because he was too busy practicing guitar; and how he only ever wanted to spend time with me when he wanted me to see him play music. The world was uncertain and frustrating to be with him (was I ever even ‘with’ him)? And as such, I got over him. I moved on. I let go of the potential we had at the beginning. I didn’t care anymore, because he cared so little for me. But nonetheless, I should have sat him down and told him how I was feeling. I should have made it very clear. I should have been braver than I was.

The dream meant nothing. But it served as a reminder that it’s the failures we regret more than the could’ve-beens.

 

The Impersonal Nature of Social Media.

In high school, I would have killed to have something like Twitter so I could bond with a bunch of people with similar interests, life experiences and so on. In my 4500-person small town, there was something I needed that I wasn’t receiving from the peer group I had – it was limited and stifling and I didn’t ‘fit’. I would have been online every day searching for the friends I didn’t have.

Social media though, has changed the dignity of basic human interactions – apologies and passive-aggressive messages and yearnings become public. We write vague, mysterious, emotional tweets, instagrammed quotes and Facebook statuses so everyone we know in primary, tertiary and peripheral ways will ask, “what’s wrong?” or comfort us, or hate the ones we hate. We seek validation on social media because we’ve forgotten that emotional resonance sometimes only needs to be personal, and targeted, and private, and above all, from the heart.

Something that has been important to me, and will continue to be important to me moving forward, is to keep some emotional moments and feelings private, and direct my emotions to only the person who is the target of those emotions – whether it’s love, anger, sadness, or disappointment. I haven’t been perfect at this and I’m not going to ever pretend I’ve never made mistakes. But social media is a dangerous multiple-headed beast that can only be tamed when we take a sword and cut off some of its heads.

I’ve made mistakes on social media – I’ve said too much and gone too far. It’s easy to do. It’s a comfort to us. It’s the comfort we all need – it’s the rooftop we all want to scream from. It’s the castle we want to be the king of. I’ve done and said things I can’t take back and I regret those, and I’m sorry for them and I’ve privately told the targets of my social media mistakes that I’m sorry for those as well.

I think sometimes when we’re online we need to really think about the intention of our messages, about who is reading them, and about the sincerity of every post. Especially the sincerity.