Rest in Peace, Chester Bennington.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

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.

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.

Places that Shaped Me.

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

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

Some of those places include:

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

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

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

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

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

 

This Week in My History: October 26, 2008.

He doesn’t like me. I just spent the coldest weekend of my life (in more ways than one) with him and it was business, business, business. And then I wrapped. And that was it. Actually, it was mostly just awkward as fuck. And I hated life a lot. Then I worked on my horrendous McTaggart Award entry – GOD – I don’t stand a chance at winning that contest. There’s no POINT to my essay, no hook, no interest, it’s too dark and controversial, the style is all mixed up.. totally, totally, totally shitty, legitimately. *Sigh* and I wanted to win so badly. Because if I did, I could take him with me. That will never happen. But he kind of hates me anyway, so it doesn’t matter. I’m cold. And I’m going to bed. Because I’m tired. TWO MORE DAYS UNTIL CARDINOLOGY.

 

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.