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.

 

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.

Review: “Prisoner” by Ryan Adams

I preface this “review” (if you can call it that – there wasn’t really anything better to call it) by saying that ever since I first heard the song New York, New York by Ryan Adams way back in the day when it appeared on an MTV 2 compilation I got from Columbia House (good times, amirite?) I have been a fan of Mr. Ryan Adams. My connection with his music and in some ways with him as a person deepened significantly in 2005 and ever since then, I have considered his music a pillar in my life. Good music can do amazing things for those who connect with it. What that looks like varies from person to person, but anyways, that’s another story for another day.

So, let’s talk about “Prisoner”.

Upon first listen, songs like “Doomsday” and “Do You Still Love Me” have this dark, gritty 1980s heartland rock feel that is a dash of punk rock, the tiniest smudge of alt-country, and a plethora of Smiths and Springsteen influence. None of which is surprising, as Adams is often cited in music magazines which get millions of times the readership this blog will ever get, as “wearing his influences on his sleeve”. Songs like these open a new door for Adams, that of abandoning the more straight-up country music stylings, Willie Nelson collaborations, and sprawling Grateful Dead summer jams, in favour of something modern and fuzzy and rough. I like this. I like it because it is Ryan showing once again he will not be confined by genre or what people ‘expect’ him to be. He makes music for himself, to express himself in ways he wants to, and gets to release that music on his labels. Ryan Adams is the master of his own domain. It’s authentic and I love that about him as an artist.

Genre-bending aside, there are other things in “Prisoner” to talk about that are more near and dear to me than analyzing music (although analyzing music too, is very near and dear to me).

“Prisoner” is a divorce album.

In creating such a deeply personal album, I am reminded of Heartbreaker-era Ryan Adams songs. They’re songs written by(?) and for(?) someone who is transitioning to a new part of their life, in new places, and leaving people and versions of themselves behind in a process. As someone who has undergone so much fucking change in the last two years it’s unfathomable (living in suitcases, driving to and from different cities every weekend, changing jobs, changing friends, changing cars, changing colleagues), that sense of standing at the precipice and fully realizing “everything is different now, and now I have to face the rest of this alone” is something I’ve become familiar with in so many manifestations of my life.

On the title track, Ryan Adams points out a bird perching by the prison bars and says, “How can something born with wings/never know freedom to truly be free”. In a simple line like this, Ryan Adams has set up a dichotomy between knowing what it takes to be free and not being able to, versus a ‘free’ creature who can’t know or appreciate the ease of being free. He has also attributed this question about freedom’s true appreciation and definition to himself and the listener. He then repeats the idea of “I know loving you is wrong”. I hear this and I think about my first ‘breakup’, a moment when the pull between being ‘trapped’ in love with someone who would never love me back, and also at the same time, wanting to be in love with them, feeling thus, like a criminal and a prisoner. In this song, Ryan Adams is suddenly me, you, and all of us. But also, while being deeply, deeply personal. How does someone do this? If I knew, I’d be a more successful writer than I am right now.

Shiver and Shake is a sparse, devastating account of a loss so great, you can almost see it like sand slipping through Adams’ fingers. Again, I think of the feeling of losing someone near and dear to one’s life. That feeling of being caught between memories and loneliness, of imagining the worst, checking your phone, lying in bed alone feeling the lost presence of someone… it’s all there in just a few short minutes of pain. Like a burst of aching moments after everything feels okay again. Again, feelings I know well that are long since buried and when I listen to this song they flare up again as if those heartbreaks were still fresh and I’m still 22 years old. The first time I heard this song, I cried some tears while I drove to work and reflected on losses in my life and how they made me feel.

I can’t close this “review” off without talking about Outbound Train, which is probably one of my now-top favourite Adams songs ever. I could say all kinds of maybe eloquent, semi-smart things about this song but I am going to start with saying, OMG I FREAKING LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS SONG! Breath. First of all, imagery. Images like “Lost inside the void of the fading tail lights” and “I feel this aching in my chest, rolling ’round like a pile of bones” are vivid and true. The line that hits the deepest is when Adams laments that “Walls are all cracked, The fan stutters in the room, Where we slept, Where I woke up next to you”. The music dies down but heartbeat drums pound lowly as he says this line, as if it’s a sudden realization among a flurry of aching sadness hitting someone all at the same time. Genius. This arrangement is genuis. Secondly, train-like beats and travelling brakeman aesthetic litter this song, almost remiscent without the outlaw country nostalgia, as Adams song, “Trains”. It’s smart songwriting and arranging that allows for a song’s rhythms and crescendos to somehow match the subject, mood or images within a song.

Ryan Adams is a wicked-smart songwriter. And songs like Outbound Train showcase the best of what he has up his sleeve. He knows songwriting like few other contemporary artists do. He is able to take a subject, a line, a hook, a riff, and turn it seemingly instantly, into something amazing. If you see him live, he is able to take an audience comment or something that randomly happens and transform it into a hilarious, rhyming, mostly full-fledged song. People like him live and breathe music. He knows it, he loves it, he’s passionate about it, and he is a master of what he does.

But more than that, Ryan Adams brings back painful and joyful memories for me as a person. He reminds me of what it means to appreciate those you love. He helps me to reminisce about my youth while seeing the utmost importance of standing on my own as an adult. This record is something that came along for me when I wanted and needed it the most. So on top of its greatness, it seems to seek out parts of ourselves that we weren’t sure were there anymore.

 

Nine years ago, I started a blog so that  I could write away my problems.

I did write away my problems.

I’m proud of myself that for the past nine years, even when it was minimal, even if I only dropped in one time in a month, I have written through joys, difficulties, happiness, and so on. It’s been a complicated nine years in a lot of ways and I’ve gone through so much. I’m happy I took the time to come back here.

Happy anniversary to myself. Here’s to more documentation of the struggles of my life.

If you’ve been reading, thanks for reading!

#BellLetsTalk

Life is hard. Life with mental illness is harder. Talking about mental illness, engaging those who are struggling without judgment, is going to make a hard life just a little bit easier a burden to carry on one’s shoulders.

I just wanted to give thanks to Bell Mobility for opening up the conversation and having those from all over the world contributing to mental wellness, helping to open up conversations.

I’m not going to tell you a story of how mentally unwell I am. I have had bouts of deep-rooted confidence issues – because I’m a survivor of abuse, because I was bullied so intensely growing up and was isolated from my peers. It takes me ages to get over things like breakups, falling-outs and the feeling of making a mistake. I’m hard on myself. I look in the mirror and don’t think I’m pretty. I binge eat or don’t eat. Life is hard. Do I have mental illness? Not that I’ve been diagnosed with. But I can, in just a small way, relate to the inward struggles of those who do. Sometimes, life is just a bit harder than it normally is. That’s life, but it doesn’t mean struggles of any kind should be trivialized or minimized. Yes, it’s life. But sometimes it helps to talk about it.

Let’s carry the momentum of #BellLetsTalk day year-round – lets’s focus on mental wellness and de-stigmatizing mental illness every day. Don’t let people you care about, or anyone really, walk through their challenges alone.

My 2017 To-Do List.

We all have grand ambitions at the commencement of each new year. I do too (deal) and I try to keep my to-dos-before-the-end-of-the-year as manageable and realistic as possible. I try not to make them specific items that cost money (like “buy a car” for example). I try not to make them things that cost me time with those I care about. And I try and relate them back to my overall goals of who I want to be, what kind of educator, woman, partner and aspiring runner I hope to see myself as by this time next year. Here’s my list:

  1. Run two half-marathons
  2. Drive the California coast
  3. Be the best substitute teacher I can be, considering I’ve never done it before and I’m terrified
  4. Fit my jeans from three years ago
  5. Do one month of sobriety
  6. Get a drastic haircut
  7. Move back to where I currently consider home
  8. See at least 5 concerts
  9. Travel to see at least one of those aforementioned 5 concerts
  10. Maintain a legit adult budget
  11. Sort out all the copious amounts of my belongings that I’ve left at my parents’ house and get rid of/donate at least 50% of it to charity
  12. Go skiing at least once

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.