Monday, July 7, 2014

Live through this, and all that.

In the grand tradition of Bruce McCulloch’s Hangover sketch, and because putting all these thoughts in just one place seemed MILDLY less destructive than live-tweeting the past couple of days, I give you a modern girl’s guide to breaking up.


11:15 PM. 45 minutes before Shoshanna-style Day Date, receive extremely unbelievable text from supposed Main Hang. Think to yourself, The nerve of some goddamned people. The goddamned nerve. Think that, but with more frustrated texting and swear words and air kicking. Feel yourself cracking open.

12:00 noon. Through tears of rage, make a mental tally of the outrageous ways in which you have been broken up with over the years. Decide that the Text Breakup trumps all, even the Cross Country Time Zone Spanning Phone Call Breakup. Realize that this is not a productive exercise.

1:30. Run away. Do it. It's so rarely so deserved, or so convenient. Throw a few bathing suits and several cans of cider into a tote bag. Drive up Highway 6, past Grasshopper Imports. Keep driving. Keep moving. Turn up the radio. Think some thoughts. Feel some feelings. Sing some songs.

3:30 PM. Arrive at the lake, and jump in. Can we listen to the country station? Your best friend will politely ask your host. Fuck yeah, will be the reply. Fuck yeah.

5:00 PM. Go for a sail. Rationalize the particulars of your romantic failure as your best friend tells you when to tack. Allow the sail to hit you in the head, but only in passing. We could see the bottom of the boat on that one turn, your host will announce as you careen gracefully back toward the dock. My mom thinks I have the risk gene, your best friend and first mate will observe. I think we all do, you will reply. I think it just manifests in different ways in different people.

9:00 PM. Let the sun set. Swim out to the middle of the bay. Survey the land. Decide which piece you want for your own. This really does seem like the ideal time to take out a second mortgage, you'll observe, bemused.


9:00 AM. Run away again, just around the lake and back. Get chased by the same goddamned enormous dog you always get chased by. Try to treat it as an object lesson. Learn the dog's name (Betsy).

11:00 AM. dive into the water, which is colder than expected. Swim out to the point with your fellow mermaid in tow. Let the waves crash against your face as you make your way back to shore. Let yourself be pulled under, just for a moment.

12:30 PM. Depart the lake, and allow iPod shuffle to lead a journey of intense introspection. Begin planning the Breakup Catharsis playlist, which includes generous helpings of Sam Roberts, The Walkmen, and Bob Dylan (namely, Most Likely You'll go Your Way and I'll go Mine).

3:00 PM. Arrive home just in time for a radio documentary about Joni Mitchell's Blue on CBC 2. Lie on couch, overcome. Nod vigorously in agreement at the observation that Carey perfectly articulates the irresistible lure of the bad boy, that addictive itch, those perpetual butterflies. Think back to that risk gene. To each her own.

3:10 PM Resolve to never again date a guy who doesn't have the radio tuned to the nation’s public broadcaster for at least 5 hours daily.

5:30 PM. Call mom. Always call mom.

6:00 PM. Decamp to hammock in backyard with a stack of novels. Endeavour to remain there 3-6 hours.

7:00 PM. Drag body out of hammock for absolutely essential dinner break. Pull rhubarb and kale from the garden. Consider making a cake. Open the windows. Let the wind in. Let it swirl around, through doorways and hallways. Let it find its way into your dark corners.

9:00 PM Go Full Margot Tennenbaum in the bathtub. Tie a TV to the radiator. Find yourself an ashtray. Know on some deep, secret level that this is all going to be fine. Allow yourself to ignore that deeper truth for just a little while longer. Dunk your head under water. Hold your breath. Exhale.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Polar Vortex.

Look, no one needs you to tell them that it was a long winter. This was some Laura Ingalls Wilder style insanity. One for the record books, an absolute fucking horror show of emotional turmoil and spiritual reckoning and depression-addled blanket burrowing. No, no one needs to hear that from you. They've already heard it. They covered it daily on the public radio news that is your only accepted current events source. "How can it still be so cold?" they asked, dumbly, bewilderedly, each morning, as you brewed scalding hot strong coffee and toasted toast and died, over and over, dreading those first steps outdoors. Everyone knows that part already. They lived it too.

The winter started before the cold, though, and you rang out the old having your last real conversation with the one you'd first talked to nearly exactly a year earlier. It's horribly easy to end things over the phone, you thought to yourself. Horribly easy. Your best friend insisted on picking you up on New Year's Eve, benevolently helping you avoid the terrible Bridget Jones cliche of the suddenly single gal home alone, Joni Mitchell on the stereo. You were thankful for the charity. You enjoyed that perfect, surreal, lawless moment that arose whenever anyone was in transition, that brief point at which anything was possible, when everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

The deep freeze began the next day, it seemed. A sudden plunge, frozen cheeks and frozen pipes and that looming feeling that nothing would ever be right again. You rode out your days and hid out each night. You found a silver lining in the fact that a polar vortex is a hermit's dream. You inherited your brother's old record player and a TON of your parents' old records and declared this to be the winter of smooth 70s rock, a perfect follow-up to last year's mixtape 90s binge.

"We don't listen to enough Fleetwood Mac anymore," you told your best friend one night as she nodded vigorously in agreement. One afternoon you plucked a Steely Dan CD back from the weeding pile at the library and checked it out and told yourself you were doing the best thing you'd done in months. You tried not to look back in anger.

You didn't have much choice but to look for things to be hopeful for.

They weren't hard to find, not really. Some of them came on slow. Some of them came back from the past, unsurprising given your penchant for nostalgia. Some of them brought presents and were never really heard from again. Some came to visit and made you feel electric and goofy as a schoolgirl, holding mittened hands and wandering in the art gallery. Suddenly some were around a lot. You found yourself picking up raspberries at the grocery store so there'd be something in the fridge for breakfast. There were more teacups around the house than usual, more books askew, misplaced objects, the cozy clutter of a lived-in space, a warm warren in a frigid world. It could be a good thing, you realized, this shared space.

One night someone who was around more often than not those days helped you dismantle your shitty old Ikea bed frame one last time, a job you'd done over and over and over again in towns across the province, a job every man in your life seems to have been a part of, from your boyfriends to your dad to your brother's college roommate.

Afterwards you cooked him dinner. "Division of labour," you joked.

"It tastes like more," he told you.

"Help yourself," you replied, and he did.

Helping yourself. That's how you got through it. Those long cold nights seemed interminable, but you got through them. You found what you needed. It didn't look like what you thought it would, but nothing ever did. That much you'd finally learned.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

the Valentine Project, part 5.

I'm reviving my Valentine Project series, because there's not enough wistful heartache in the world, there's really not. You can catch up here before traveling backward through time once more.

February 14, 2005, Kitsilano, Vancouver, BC.

I took the bus up to the airport to meet his plane. It took nearly an hour. When I saw him waiting by the baggage carousel I ran up behind him and threw my arms around him (thank heavens for the chilled out attitude of YVR airport security). We splurged on a taxi back to my little Arbutus Street apartment and spent the following days wrapped around each other in the way that you get when you're 24 years old and newly-reunited with your one true love after two months apart.

He stayed for a week and I don't even remember what day was actually Valentine's Day amid a hazy, dozy slew of golden afternoons. I think maybe my roommate and secret sister, Tara, might have come home part-way through and joined us for dinner. We definitely watched The Wedding Singer for the twentieth time. I know we ate crepes at the little place down the street at some point, wandered along the Sea Wall, watched the sun set over English Bay through the picture window in the living room. I dragged him to Stanley Park one day, and got lost as I did every blessed time I ever went there. The woods spat us out close to Lost Lagoon and we wandered around the edge of the water, vaguely bewildered, utterly comfortable with one another.

He left a few days later and I cried at the airport (my years living in Vancouver were the ones during which I honed the sacred craft of the Airport Breakdown). I could barely let go of him, already counting the days till we'd see each other again in April. I could not bear the thought. It was the beginning of the end of us, though we didn't know it then. I didn't see it coming, though everyone around me sure did. That's the thing about me. I never quite see it coming.

Friday, January 24, 2014


My longest relationship (with a BOY, I mean) lasted five and a half years. That still seems like an INCREDIBLE amount of time to me, which probably explains my firm commitment to serial monogamy. They were five and a half long years, if you know what I mean. A lot happens between the ages of 19 and 24. In hindsight I'm glad I had a buddy through all of it, dramatic though we may have been. We had five years of post-adolescent intensity, weekend trips back and forth to each others' hometowns each summer, nights sleeping over in the guys' dorm, mixtapes and heartache. We were in it for the long haul. Then I moved to Vancouver, and things went south as I veered west.

After a year of long-distance agony (and ALSO a couple of insanely fun visits, nights under the stars on the beach and heartfelt declarations and good sushi), and mere days before I was scheduled to come back to Ontario for a month, he broke it off over the phone. It's an awful way to end things, over the phone. If you're on the receiving end, there's nothing you can do, no one to grab onto, no door you can barricade to keep the other person from going. If you're the one going, it depersonalizes it, makes easy an act that has already ripped your heart to shreds from the agony of deciding to do it in the first place.

No one wins, really.

When he broke up with me that afternoon I didn't even know what to do. I sure hadn't expected to be on the receiving end of something like that. I felt like the rug had been ripped out from under me (and that rug really tied the ROOM together, man). I flew home from Vancouver in the fetal position, re-reading Franny and Zooey. I was not in a great place, emotions-wise.

"Five and a half YEARS!" I cried to my mother. "It's a quarter of my LIFE!" She nodded, and made sure I got a lot of fresh air and hugs during the next couple of weeks.

I never thought I'd get over it. For a long time, I didn't, till suddenly, i did. Sometimes I wonder if I spent more time getting over him than I actually spent under him (or beside him, rather). Sometimes I wonder if things would have been different if I hadn't run away, but I know that particular hypothetical would NEVER have worked for me. Because I'm always running away, even when I don't even know it. Always with the escape route, for better or for worse.

Monday, December 30, 2013

albums of the year, 2013.

Honestly, I feel like putting together this list somehow deceives people into thinking I listened to anything other than The National this year. At any rate, I don't get too many opportunities to deceive others, so let's just go with it.

In no particular order, here are the new records I was obsessed with this year. This isn't a Top Ten, because I don't think I even listened to ten new records this year. Lying on the floor listening to Matt Berninger mirror your soul back to you in song takes up a LOT of time.

(Please note, this is an Arcade Fire Free Zone.)

Neko Case--The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
(I want to be her when I grow up.)

Laura Marling--Once I was an Eagle

David Bowie--The Next Day

Vampire Weekend--Modern Vampires of the City
(My mother called these guys Zombie Weekend last week, that was pretty great.)

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs--Mosquito

Haim--Days Are Gone

The National--Trouble Will Find Me

This album is perfect.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Interesting things always seem to happen on the darkest day of the year.

Four years ago, it was my first Christmas in Kingston. The weekend of the winter solstice, my best friends were having a holiday party. It was a Friday night, and I had to work the next day. This solemn fact didn't really propel me toward anything resembling responsible decision making. The signature cocktail of the party was Moose Milk, which is, to the best of my recollection, equal parts ice cream, Baileys, vodka, and sin. On my well-past-tipsy stumble home (oh, the joy of living stumbling distance from best friends), I phoned up the man in my life. I hadn't had a cell phone for very long at that point, and the novelty of being able to call people (not to mention the novelty of having someone to call) hadn't worn off.

"I'm gonna keep you on the phone," I told him, "in case anything happens to me on my way home. I might need a witness of some kind."

"Jesus Christ," he replied, probably not of much sounder mind than I. "Get the hell off the streets."

"Oh, I'm fine," I assured him, sidling into a snowbank. "I have to work in the morning, anyway."

"Jesus Christ," he repeated. "Call in sick, you idiot."

I probably should have heeded his advice, but some semblance of professionalism won out instead, and I struggled through a busy, crazy Saturday at the library, half-asleep and probably still off-gassing vodka from the previous evening. He picked me up that night outside the library, in not much better shape than I, and we drove out to Brockville to visit his parents for Christmas.

The thing about him and me was, we spent a long time pretending we weren't as attached as we actually were. We danced around one another for a ridiculous span of months and years before we admitted to one another what we actually felt. Once we did, we kind of went into Full Steam Ahead mode, zero to sixty in ten seconds, that kind of thing. From flat out denial that we were in love to barreling down the highway toward Brock Vegas for Christmas dinner. It had been a long time since I'd had anyone in my life for whom I cared enough to spend a hungover Saturday night with family, eating a chicken casserole that was his mother's version of vegetarian cooking. His mom had gifts for both of us, a Trivial Pursuit game and a bag of chocolate and toothpaste and new slippers and stocking stuffers. He was embarrassed by it, but not so much that he apologized for it. The novelty hadn't worn off here either.

That night we slept in separate single beds, him in his brother's room, me in his. In the morning I woke up to him jumping on top of me and telling me to get ready to get the fuck out of there. He was a big fan of the Irish Goodbye, leaving unannounced and then calling from the road. (Those apologetic phone conversations comprised about forty percent of our communication during the first year of our relationship.) This was a hard feat to pull off in your own parents' house, though, so we toughed it out through breakfast before burning rubber.

We took the long way home, down past Smith's Falls, coming into Kingston over the bridge from the east side of town. Everything was snow-quiet and still. That afternoon, my best friend was playing a solstice concert at the Mansion. He hated going out, but I convinced him to come with me without much prodding. We sat on bar stools, drinking pints of Guinness, listening to some of the best musicians in town play the best kind of folk music. The sun was setting on the darkest day of the year, the dimming-down outside making the Christmas lights twinkling around us in the bar seem brighter by the moment. We walked home shivering, fell asleep curled up together to keep warm. It was so cold that he let the dog jump up on the bed, which he never did, as a rule. "It's my bed, not his," he'd say. But that night that he begrudgingly allowed an exception. Sometimes you have to do that, go against your own code for the sake of someone else. Sometimes the most important thing is just to stay warm. Sometimes you do what you can to find light in the darkness.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

the days we hit the coast: halloween.

If you've ever felt that, in the words of Ron Burgundy, you IMMEEEDIATELY regret a decision, Then you know how I felt in the fall of 2004.

I'd just moved to Vancouver from Toronto, leaving behind the love of my life, to start grad school. I was living in a college-style graduate residence on the very edge of the UBC campus, practically falling off the edge of a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. There were mountains all around me, long shorelines and beaches below. It was overwhelming. I'd read somewhere that the West Coast is a good place to go if you'd like to get lost, and now I saw that it was true: even her cities seem capable of swallowing you up.

Within a few weeks of my arrival, I knew that the college wasn't for me. It felt like a sort of haute bourgeois frathouse. It was beautiful there, but oh so wrong. I met a handful of lovely people, but I still felt so uncertain. I began to worry that I'd made a huge mistake by moving out to the coast in the first place. What in the fucking WORLD had prompted me to believe that the best thing I could do was leave behind my boyfriend, my family, and all my friends and take off to the other side of the country? I am an idiot, I told myself as I walked back home through the UBC rose garden, wandered past the massive totems at the Anthropology Museum up the road. I am in over my head.

Then I met my friend Tara. She was in the same program as me, and she was a few years older than me, and from the moment I met her I wanted her to be my cool big sister. We spent the first few weeks of school politely eating lunch together, progressing to trips to the movies and getting stranded after the buses stopped running, (goddamn you, Translink), consuming as much free beer as possible at the library school's social events. It was a strong start. But it wasn't till Halloween that we really fell in love.

I somehow managed to convince Tara to come with me to a Grad Student Union sponsored party on Friday night, in spite of ALL of our better judgment. It was a complete and utter gong show, a middle school dance populated by shit-wasted philosophy TAs in sexy angel costumes. I was dressed as Margot Tennenbaum, and Tara went high concept as The Morning After: lipstick smeared across her face, hair a mess, skirt tucked into her tights. No one quite got it.

Let's get OUTTA here, we agreed, and I walked her to the bus loop. It was one of those wonderfully windy, rainy coastal nights. "Halloween weather," my boss at the time called it. The wind whipped around us as RCMP cars whisked past-drunk revellers to the nearest paramedic. My mangy Margot fur coat had the heft and scent of a drowning racoon. Of course the buses had stopped running (goddamn you again, Translink) and so I told Tara she could stay at my place. It was the first sleepover party I'd had in years.

We made our way meanderingly back to the college, trolling the grounds on our way. We climbed the fire escape of Cecil Green House, pausing to consider the weirdness of this oceanside mansion in my backyard. From the top of the stairs we could see the Georgia Strait and West Vancouver in the distance, the mountains beyond. We tumbled back down and past the former inground pool, now filled in and turned to a garden space. What a strange place I live in, I thought hazily, momentarily glad to be so far outside my comfort zone, relieved to have someone to share it with.

Tara slept on my floor that night, and I think we watched The Big Chill before we passed out. The next morning I took the bus back to Kitsilano with her and we spent the day doing what Tara called the Epic Hangout: brunch, Sally Ann shopping, beach walks. Man, it gets hard to find people who are up for it, Tara said. People couple off and then it just changes.

I realized then that for the first time in a long time, I was completely unencumbered. Half my heart was still back home in Toronto, and that hurt more than I could bear. But suddenly, my days were completely in my own control. My life was all mine. I walked the Sea Wall with Tara that afternoon and felt so glad and free.

A month or so later, Tara's roommate situation imploded, and my itchy feet got the better of me, and she asked me to move in with her. A few weeks after that, I borrowed a family friend's car and drove all my worldly goods down the mountain to Arbutus Street. There are a lot of other stories that ensued, which I will tell one day. But the moral of THIS story is that I think of Tara every Halloween, of how she always went full-bore when she committed to the absurd, of how things were never ever dull with her.

When you're getting to know someone, you're tentative, unaware of how this person may weave into your life. It's so funny to think back on those first moments of a friendship that is now so essential.