Friday, December 30, 2011

"i've been wearing december like a crown of thorns."

2011 saw me revisiting a lot of my usual tropes: not finishing books I'd started, barreling back and forth forever behind the wheel of my trusty Honda Civic, listening to a lot of Dylan, packing up another beloved apartment, trying to feel hopeful and brave, moving up and moving out. If someone had told me when I took stock of 2010 a year ago today that, one year later, I'd be staring out the window of my very own Hamilton cottage, roots reluctantly yet firmly planted back home, I'd have told you that you were batshit crazy. And yet, here I am, and here we are. Life's a funny, funny thing. Whether that's Funny Ha Ha or Funny Try To Keep From Weeping Openly, well, the jury's still out. While we deliberate, let's look back on the year that was.

Best magazines for the person who's lost the will to read anything longer than three thousand words, give or take: The New Yorker. Free access to this sacred tome basically justifies my library career.

Best job ever: The one at the library where your staff put the new copies of The New Yorker and Yoga Journal in your mail tray when they come in, "for your perusal."

Best perpetual road trip: The dreaded 401, Eastbound and Westbound in turns. The road that used to drive me bananas became one of my favourites this year as I barreled back and forth between Hamilton and Kingston and points north for job interviews, yoga teacher training weekends, visits with brand new babies, and more. I made some of the best of those jaunts with my Yoga Friend Cheryl. Anyone who does yoga regularly knows that Yoga Friends are somehow different than Other Friends because they TOTALLY GET your weird obsessions with breathing deeply and chakra-balancing incense and oh my lord, who have I become. Cheryl and I became yoga teachers together this year, and I don't think I would have survived the many drives back to Kingston if it weren't for her. We laughed, we cried, we spent millions of dollars at Whole Foods and Harveys, we listened to insane music on her iPod. For some reason, the only song I can think of from those many, many hours on the road is this one.

Best comic book about a noirish cat detective: Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales. Seriously guys, this series is fucking incredible.

Best show: A tie between Plaskett at the Studio Theatre in March and the Harvest Picnic at Christie Conservation Area in August. Harvest Picnic gets a bit of an edge for its fully functional farmer's market--hearing Ray Lamontagne and buying kohlrabi in the same place makes me a happy panda.

Best Makeout Song: Only In Dreams, Weezer.

Strangest moment of sudden adulthood: Coming to the realization that you've been making out to Weezer for nearly twenty years.

Best Musical Rediscovery: David Bowie.

Best CBC Radio program, Pulling Me Out Of Sunday Night Doldrums to Learn Something category: Inside the Music.

Best book that took three false starts beore I finally got further than twenty pages: A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. A strange, sad, lovely, multi-narrated gem about music and mortality in the twentieth century. Bonus points for the chapter told entirely in Powerpoint slides.

Murakami quote that most accurately describes exactly where I am, in this very moment: "Oh, well. No place has everything you need."

Like the old boys say, tomorrow, it's a brand new fucking year. Let's hope this one's a doozy.

a year in review: oldies but goodies edition.

Like I said yesterday, my Best Albums of the Year lists are usually an inaccurate representation of what I actually listened to all year. I'm so behind the curve that I generally don't listen to anything from the current year till December, when I start thinking about what I'm going to put on my Best Albums list. (Because I know how much everyone looks forward to this annual drop-in-the-bucket exercise in artistic navel-gazery. I do it for you, faithful readers.) So I thought this year I'd also do a Best Albums of the Year: Non New Releases list.

The National--High Violet

Bob Dylan--all of him (unusual, I know.)

Billy Joel--Greatest Hits

Rufus Wainwright--Want One

Elton John--Greatest Hits

The Magnetic Fields--Get Lost

The Strokes--Room on Fire

David Bowie--Ziggy Stardust

Aimee Mann--entire blessed discography

A.C. Newman--Get Guilty

The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least where my iPod is concerned.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

a year in review.

As always, this is a pretty false representation of what I actually listened to this year, because while I do love me some new music, I love Billy Joel's Greatest Hits more. Nevertheless, here are my favourite records of 2011, actually released in 2011.

The Whole Love--Wilco

Mirror Traffic--Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

We're All Dying To Live--Rich Aucoin

Strange Mercy--St Vincent

The Creature I Don't Know--Laura Marling

Let England Shake--PJ Harvey

Helplessness Blues--Fleet Foxes

Bon Iver--Bon Iver

Seeds--Hey Rosetta

The King Is Dead--The Decemberists

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bloom where you're planted.

When I first moved to Vancouver in 2004, I lived in a college for grad students on the very edge of the UBC campus. Green College sat so close to the ocean that there were spots on the grounds where you could pretty much fall down a cliff and into the cold waters of the Pacific (a possibility I tested on more than a few tipsy, stumbling nights around the property). To get home from class every day, I would cut through the Rose Garden on my walk, a shortcut that actually took longer than the straight route and involved a descent down steep stone stairs. In my memory, Vancouver is all incredible peaks and valleys--not just off in the distance, but also right in front of me, on every sidewalk I ever travelled. Each block was a strange and treacherous incline, unknown territory. Anyway, I didn't mind the extra steps through the roses. The UBC campus is teeming with horticultural secrets: waterfalls, experimental farms filled with hybrid apples, Japanese tea gardens, nude beaches. I felt lucky to have such a treasure on my daily path. As the fall wore on I watched in amazement as the roses continued to bloom. I came from a place where roses only really appeared in June, around my birthday. My daily walks through that garden made me feel like it was my birthday all autumn long, a feeling that came as a brief daily relief from the overwhelming homesickness that took up so much of my energy in those first few months on the other side of the country.

One morning in mid-December, I was walking through the rose garden under a dark grey sky. There was a cold wind blustering; that particularly Vancouvery, sleet was stinging my face. I was on my way back to my room to work on my last assignment of the semester and then to pack up my life and get ready to move out of Green College. On a tipsy, stumbling night a few weeks earlier, I'd made the decision to move off campus and into an apartment on Arbutus Street with a view of the mountains. All fall, I'd been struggling to find a place in Vancouver to put down my roots, and I nervously hoped that this move would be the right one. (As it turned out, it was, and the friend I moved in with would turn out to be one of my best friends in all of the explored universe, but I didn't know that yet.) As I schlepped my way through the roses that morning, cold and lonely and longing for home, I was feeling a little desperate.

The roses were pretty well finished, I noticed, and I felt even more bummed out than before. It was the winter of my discontent. If there's one thing I know how to do, it's send myself into a spiral of unfounded despair. I was on my way down the existential rabbit hole when I ran into a friend of mine from Green, reaching out to touch a gorgeous, newly formed, yellow rose. She'd found the last few flowers in the garden, and it was blowing her mind.

"Isn't this incredible?" she said. "December and they're finally blooming." Like me, she came from a province where the roses' time is short but sweet. We weren't used to this long, meandering season. We weren't late bloomers, or at least, we'd never admitted it to ourselves if we were. It was one of those moments that made me take a step back and realize that after all these months, all this slow growth, I was suddenly, miraculously, home. It wasn't the home I expected, nor would it be my home forever, but there it was, at once familiar and strange and unexpected.

Bloom where you're planted, someone once told me. I've bloomed in a lot of weird and wonderful places, put down roots only to rip them back up a few years later, haul them with me to the next stop on the road. I've come home a million times, in a million ways. I think we all do. I read a short story by Carol Nelson awhile ago that said something like, "Christmas is a time when you're homesick, even when you're home." That makes sense to me. We're all just trying to get back to the place that means the most to us, even though that place changes a little bit every day. Sometimes we don't even notice it changing. We don't even know we need something different, and then suddenly, there it is, right before our eyes, on our very own doorsteps.

Merry Christmas, all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas memories.

I found this really, really random playlist on my iPod a couple of weeks ago while scrolling around looking for my Christmas music. It is called "Kridmit" for reasons that some may understand. I must have compiled it somewhere around 2008, because it is comprised of a fine balance of songs that very accurately convey the uncertainty, sadness, and puppy love that characterized the last few months of that year of my life (not to mention my affinity for do-wop Christmas covers). Here's a cross-section.

1. White Christmas--The Drifters

2. End of Empire--Sam Roberts

3. River--Joni Mitchell

4. Don't Do It--The Band

5. The Friendly Beasts--Sufjan Stevens

6. Tomorrow is a Long Time--Bob Dylan

7. Hard Candy Christmas--Dolly Parton

I'm fairly sure I put this playlist together for a drive home from Ottawa to the Hammer, or maybe one of my many existential jaunts from South Frontenac back to the Glebe. In hindsight, it's a Christmas miracle I didn't decide to run my car off the road once and for all. Hallelujah, the times they are a-changin'.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Still, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't easy.

A few Decembers ago, I went to hear Wilco and Neil Young play in Ottawa with my best friend's husband (although he wasn't her husband yet). It was a strange sort of outing for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being that my best friend Freya wasn't there with us. She was at home with a three-month-old baby. I still remember that conversation a few months previous when we realized that Neil and Wilco were TOURING TOGETHER and that they were COMING TO OUR TOWN, only to realize in the next moment that the floor of Scotiabank Place probably wouldn't be super conducive to babies. There was a moment where it seemed like Freya might still get herself a ticket; the impending uncertainty of exactly what motherhood might mean fought an epic battle with her commitment to two of our favourite musical artists, not to mention the chance to see them together on one stage. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, the nesting instinct won out.

One of the other things that made that night an odd one was the fact that my boyfriend was there too, but he wasn't there with us. Being the socially anxious weirdo that he is, Tom had resisted getting tickets till the very last minute, and then managed to talk his neighbour, a blowhard concert promoter, into getting him an incredible VIP seat and a backstage pass. That whole chain of events made me so simmering mad and sad, although I didn't actually tell him that. Something you need to know about our relationship is that for the first year or so that we were together, we used about 90% of our energy denying the fact that we were actually IN a relationship. Call it self-protection, call it willful ignorance, call it utter foolishness. We'd spent the whole weekend before the concert together at his cabin in the woods, huddled and cuddled up close, and the whole time I just wanted to ask him, what would have been wrong with coming with us? But of course, I never did. I bottled it up and shoved it down and left his house on Sunday night feeling the way I always did when I said goodye to him: like I was leaving a huge piece of myself with him, a piece of myself that I'd given him reluctantly, silently. He knew he held it in his hands and heart, but never said so. It was like we were keeping a secret from each other, a secret we each already knew.

I am the first to admit that this was not a healthy set-up. My years in Ottawa were not ones in which I was kind to myself or others.

More often than not, after a weekend together, I'd spend my Monday in my broom closet of an office trying in vain to focus on anything but my ridiculous personal life and failing miserably. That Monday of Neil and Wilco was no exception. I remember I called Freya from my office and told her to tell Greg I wasn't going to the show, that I was sorry but I just couldn't face it. I was probably crying; I often cried in my office back then, much to the fascination of the pages wandering by my door with a full truck of books. I can't remember what Freya said to me, but it was probably something to the effect of "Pull your head out of your ass, muffin." She has a way of setting me straight. I hauled myself home, suddenly aware of the fact that I was going to this show, not just for myself, but for her. Sweet baby Finn was her priority that night; my priority was rocking out for two.

So Greg and I went to the show, and drank many, many tall cans of Creemore. Wilco put on the kind of Opening Act Set that only they can--playing all their greatest hits from across their catalogue, so tightly and perfectly timed. When they played I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, I cried, like I always do when I hear them play that song live. I called my Best West Coast Friend Tara and held my cell phone up to leave a chunk of sonic love on her answering machine. It was the first and only time I've ever done that. Between their set and Neil's, Greg and I saw Tom on his VIP throne, and tried to get his attention. We were, by all accounts, unsuccessful. When the lights went back down and Neil hit the stage, I felt this strange catharsis, knowing Tom was there too, knowing we were both loving the shit out of this show, separate but equal. Maybe it was the cookies Greg and I ate in the car before heading in but I suddenly felt like the whole night was a metaphor for our relationship.

It was probably the cookies.

Neil closed down with an incredible, earth-shaking cover of A Day In The Life that hurt my feelings something fierce. I felt like my heart had been ripped open and sewn back together. I walked out into the freezing night feeling humbled and rocked out and vindicated. A good rock show will do that to a girl. As I drove back into the city, I called Tom, who told me slurringly how he'd made it backstage and shaken Neil's hand. He asked me if I wanted to come back to his hotel room--too little, too late. It took everything in me to decline the invitation. After all, I was already halfway home.

Friday, November 25, 2011


As the days get shorter and the nights darker and longer, I find myself pining for a place I spent three years trying to escape from. Ottawa is a lot of things; My Kind Of Place it is not. Most people who knew me when I called that town home remember what a misery I was during that time; I spent most of my National Capital tenure strategizing ways to get the hell out. When I finally barreled South down highway 416 one last Friday night in May, it was one of the finest road trips I've ever taken.

But that's not my point. My point is that when you spend three years somewhere, you get a feel for it. And regardless of how much you may hate it there, you usually manage to find a few things worth loving, too. Perversely, in light of my utter hatred of cold weather, the thing I miss about Ottawa today is winter. Not that February dump of forty centimetres of pain kind of winter, not the kind of winter where you can't even get your car into your driveway on account of the snow and you end up blocking the whole street and the driver of the OC Transpo bus you're obstructing has to help you push your way out. That kind of winter I can do without.

No, the best part of an Ottawa winter was always the beginning. The temperature would just drop one day in late November, the snow would start, the canal would ice over. My neighbourhood would get suddenly quiet as everyone went back inside, cozying up in those grand old brick houses. I'd walk past their bright windows on my way home to my own little attic haven and I'd feel so lucky, to be so cold and on my way to somewhere so warm and safe. It was a sort of honeymoon period at the beginning of December, a time of sudden burrowing, holing up. For a hermit like me, it was a dream come true.

My first December in Ottawa, I wasn't actually all that miserable. I was plugging away at my job and feeling pretty good about it, I had my handful of friends. I was seeing a boy who was so kind and cute and in possession of an excellent record collection. We spent our weekends doing the things you do when you're young and falling into something--eating dinner at restaurants, fooling around like teenagers (ie. while listening to Thrush Hermit), strolling around holding hands, feeling significant and needed.

One Friday night in December we went to look at the Christmas lights on the Parliament buildings. We ate burgers at my favourite bar in town and then went back to his place, where made out while watching Labyrinth and then stayed up too late. I had to work the next day, and he insisted on walking me home in the morning. He lived in Centretown, and I was in the Glebe, just a few blocks further south. It had snowed in the night and we trudged up Bank Street together, not a car in sight. The sky was that wicked, foreboding shade of gunmetal gray that held the promise of more snow to come, and the air was so still. When we got to my front porch, he kissed me goodbye, and I walked up three flights of stairs to my place. I turned on my own newly-acquired Christmas lights and laid on my living room floor, bathed in twinkling light, safe and sound.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Goodnight, moon.

Folks, I'm going to let you all in on a little secret: I actually love the month of November. I think there are a few reasons for this:

1. The fact that a lot of people hate this time of year coupled with the fact that on occasion I have an overwhelming need to be contrary.

2. I spend a significant chunk of the year wishing it was dark enough and quiet enough to justify my desire to bury myself in church lady-knitted afghans and re-read the books that made me cry when I was younger, and suddenly, oh so suddenly, it is.

2a. In case you were wondering, this year's list of weepies includes Looking at the Moon by Kit Pearson and Girl by Blake Nelson.

2b. SHIT MAN, Blake Nelson has a SEQUEL to Girl out this month! I feel as though my heart may burst.

3. That chill in the air, that wind that threatens to pick you up off your feet and drop you back down. It's the perfect environment in which to wrap yourself up in a pashmina and walk purposefully down the street, feeling hopeful and solitary and brave.

4. There's something so comforting and quiet about the bare trees and the cold ground. It's like the whole earth is breathing a sigh of relief.

5. The incredibly important annual tradition of watching When Harry Met Sally, a movie that only feels right to me in November. I have a not so secret love of this film. I recently read an article where Melissa McCarthy declared it her favourite romantic comedy because it gives the characters so much time and space to get to know each other, and I liked that. I'd even argue that it's not so much a romantic comedy as it is a slice of life comedy about two completely inept goofballs who finally decide to make out with each other and can hardly bear the awkwardness of it all. Which is my favourite kind of love story, really.

6. November strikes me as a time of year when things often fall apart. And when it comes, and the days pass, and lo and behold you find yourself still intact, it's like a nice little karmic pat on the head.

Here's my November Top Five. It's a Lullabye List, I think.

1. The Walkmen, Four Provinces.

2. David Bowie, Soul Love.

3. Sufjan Stevens, Jacksonville.

4. The Band, When I Paint My Masterpiece.

5. The Rolling Stones, Moonlight Mile.

Goodnight, children, everywhere.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's Friday, I'm in love (with my stereo).

A soundtrack for driving to work and trying not to cry at the first sub-zero morning of the near-winter.

1. Paul Simon: Obvious Child. You'll dance, you'll cry, you'll drum on your steering wheel till you accidentally honk your horn.

1a. Guys, I'm starting to get pretty frigging pumped about the Graceland 20th Anniversary Tour next year. PRETTY FRIGGING PUMPED.

2. M. Ward: Epistemology. I like songs that reference screwing up the words to the hymns.

3. Titus Andronicus: No Future Part III. Because it's comforting to remember that you really will always be a loser.

4. Billy Joel: Don't Ask Me Why. Three minutes of SMOOTH GOLD.

5. Elton John: Rocket Man. I don't know, I honestly can't think of a moment for which this song is NOT the best choice.

5a. Here's something I love: When a song takes six minutes to get to its incredible climax, and those last thirty seconds are so, so worth it. Example: Someone Saved My Life Tonight.

6. Beach House: Walk in the Park. This is more of a night driving song, in my humble opinion, all blissed out nostalgia and soothing keyboards. Mmmmm.

7. Belle And Sebastian: Lazy Line Painter Jane. Included as a tribute to all the music I would never have known about if it weren't for my various ex-boyfriends (or possibly just one in particular). Monica Queen's voice gets me every time. Basically an essential track for any mix tape produced in Oshawa between 1999 and 2002.

And, scene.

Friday, October 28, 2011

the pieces that stick around.

I've never read Proust, and I doubt I ever will. I'm reaching the point in my real life and my reading life where I'm less concerned with what I want to do and more concerned with what I don't want to do. Examples: I don't want to go out this Friday. I don't want to talk to you on the phone if I can help it. I don't want to read Proust. The older I get the more I realize how precious my own time is, and how hard I'll work to protect it and do with it the things that really make me feel whole and happy (such as, apparently, doing shitloads of yoga and watching several hundred episodes of classic 90210 in rapid succession).

Anyway, where I was going with this was, I've never read Proust, but I know enough about him to reference him (never underestimate the value of a liberal arts education). I can definitely sympathize with the whole dipping of the madeleine cookie into the tea and the evocation of intense sense memory. As a perpetual victim of my own past, engaging with my memories is less an occasional event and more a daily contact sport.

Here's today's madeleine cookie: a scratched-up, case-less copy of The Last DJ by Tom Petty, scrounged out of the armrest console of my car during an uncharacteristic cleanout. It was buried under an empty bottle of Moosehead (in itself a madeleine in its own right). When I found the Petty CD, I spent a protracted moment trying to figure out how it had gotten there. When I turned it over and saw how dinged up it was, it all came flooding back to me.

It was a clear blue Saturday morning last November, the kind of bright, fresh day you always hope for at the end of fall, walking that fine line between the briskness of autumn and the bone-chills lying in wait. It had rained non-stop for the past week, not that I'd been outside much. I'd spent the last two days in the emergency ward at the Kingston General Hospital and then the makeshift sickroom of my own apartment with my then-boyfriend, who had broken his shoulder falling off a roof and was waiting for surgery. After a long day on Thursday, I'd taken him home when it became clear that his surgery wasn't going to happen. The nurses told us to wait by the phone for the call, which would surely come early Friday, telling us to come back to the hospital. That call never came. Instead Friday was a day spent on tenterhooks, feeding Tom painkillers and trying to track down a washing machine in which to clean his blood-soaked laundry. It is not an experience I would recommend to anyone.

When the O.R. nurse finally did call on Saturday morning, I wanted to reach through the telephone and kiss her. Tom got dressed in his now-clean clothes (never underestimate the kindness of good neighbours) and we shuffled down to my car, which was now covered in frost. The first breath I took outside that morning felt so good and pure. The air was so clean and still. I had a rush of relief and unlimited potential. Everything was going to be fine.

This feeling dissipated pretty fast when I realized I had no idea where my car scraper was. When you're walking that line between holding it together for the sake of someone else and losing it completely for your own damned self, it's pretty easy to teeter over to the dark side. I was so freaked out and panicky about the possibility of Tom missing his surgery if we were late that I just started scraping the frost off my windshield with my fingernails, all the while yelling at Tom to get the hell into the car. It would've been funny if it hadn't been so horrifying, or maybe vice versa.

"Calm down," Tom told me. He was gritting his teeth, he was in so much pain, and yet. "You must have a CD in your car."

I reached into my trunk, which was in fact comically full of CDs--when your boyfriend lives half an hour outside of town and you spend most of your weekends driving to and from his place and also rocking out pretty hard when you're together, you have to be prepared. I grabbed the first one I made contact with, The Last DJ, stolen from a pile of discards at a library I worked at a long time ago. I handed it to him, and he opened the case with his one good arm, his one steady hand. He used the edge of the disk to scrape the ice off my windows and quietly told me to start the car.

"Don't worry," he said, and he winced. "Just drive."

He was like that: stoic, protective, sensible. He was also a lot of other things, but I think it's the way he'd quietly jump in and do what needed doing that I miss the most.

We got to the hospital. He had his surgery. I spent a month playing nursemaid before we both realized that all the tender care in the world couldn't heal the real cracks, the fractures that had come on slowly, months before he fell. We broke up. It was the right thing. It was the right thing. It had to be the right thing.

I should throw out that album. It's time for a new soundtrack.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

back on the horse, jump off the horse.

Definite, universally acknowledged signs you're on a date that's headed south:

1. His opener is an anecdote about how he cooks meat for his dog in a slow-cooker and leaves the pot for his cleaning lady to worry about.

1a. Other than that, he doesn't cook much.

2. He describes, at length, his ex-wife's very expensive tastes.

3. He tells an actually pretty funny story about discovering that the house he bought (and then tore to the ground to build his dream home; people actually do this, apparently) had a grow op in the basement, and does not seem in the least excited about finding free pot in there.

4. He gleefully admits to having football-shaped lights in the W.C. adjacent to his "sports room" (people actually have these, apparently).

5. Bizarre occasions of mild racism couched under the banner of political correctness, ie. getting really quiet and whispering the word "Asian" while in a Vietnamese restaurant.

6. He does not like Christmas, and once bought a Christmas tree for his wife to spite her (the details of this one are not even worth going into; please fill in using your own fertile imagination).

7. After you spend the longest hour of your life eating Thai Tom Yum soup as fast as you possibly can in an attempt to get out of there, he completely misreads your body language and swoops in for a kiss, and then says "I hope that was the right thing to do." No, sir, no, it was not.

I'm pretty sure there's a lesson here. Let's start with this: Guys, I now know of a really great Vietnamese restaurant nearby!

Antidote: Drive home super duper fast, listening to Titus Andronicus playing super duper loud, and feel incredibly grateful for your own glorious independence.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Say thanks.

Three years ago, my mom flew up to Ottawa a couple of days before Thanksgiving so I wouldn't have to drive home alone. We went out for dinner at a restaurant in the Glebe, just a stone's throw from my attic apartment, and ate some of the best carrot soup in all creation. On the road back to Hamilton, we stopped at my best friend's house to pick up the bridesmaid dress her mom had altered for me (the top was way too big, and the skirt was way too small; I was going pear-shaped on so many levels that fall). The dress pickup was mostly a great excuse for my mom to meet Freya's brand-new baby boy, Finlay Peter, only a few weeks old. I remember holding him while Freya ran downstairs to change the laundry, and as she yelled back up the stairs to us, Finn turned his head toward the sound of her voice.

I spent that weekend in wedding mode as two more of my best friends got married on one of those warm, gorgeous October afternoons that you always wish for but never get when you need. I sat at the head table and cried at the speeches and thought of my own other half, hidden in a cabin in the woods, hours away, agoraphobic, denying everything.

Two years ago, I had to work on Thanksgiving weekend. My mom took the train to Kingston, my new forever home, and we ate dinner at Chez Piggy, tucked away cozy and warm at a corner table on a rainy night. On Sunday, my brother drove up from Hamilton and my other half drove in from the hideout, and we all trekked down to the waterfront for a long afternoon walk. The leaves were falling and the wind howled and the old psychiatric hospital buildings seemed even more ominous than usual. Mom and my brother left early on Monday morning, and the other half and I went back to bed and stayed there all day, keeping each other warm.

One year ago, he made a promise to come along on the long drive back home to Hamilton for Thanksgiving dinner. He was a man who was hard to pin down, and I was so incredibly happy to know that he would be in the driver's seat, at the dinner table next to me, tossing and turning on the creeky pullout in my parents' basement. The day before we left, he called and told me he couldn't go. He was building a house, and stewarding his land, and I tried to believe what he was saying, that he was doing this for both of us, that this was the hard part, that it would get easier. I cried into the phone like a character in a Judy Blume book. Then I picked myself up and drove myself home. That weekend in Hamilton, I went to a yoga workshop and felt my heart open up wider than ever before. I felt so incredibly grateful for the long hard road that led me to that sunny studio, that dingy rented mat.

This year, I'm potting chrysanthemums on my own front porch and ripping up rudbeckia in my own backyard, getting ready for next year's epic vegetable patch. I'm on my own. I've made my way home and my long drive to dinner is only about twelve minutes, door to door. I'm teaching my own yoga classes and telling my students to think about gratitude, to think of the things worth being thankful for, to keep an eye out for them. They always pop up in the most unexpected places.

Friday, July 22, 2011

down memory lane, the Beverly Hills 90210 edition.

Things I miss about the 90s, inspired by my catching of a summer cold on the hottest day on record (seriously) and being forced inside to watch a 90210 marathon.

But first, for context:

1. Sports montages. Montages of any kind, really. Most often accompanied by a synth-rock song you've never heard before that is usually vaguely reminiscent of Eye of the Tiger.

2. Babydoll dresses. I know these are back in vogue, but to my mind, no one pulls it off like Kelly Taylor. Incidentally, Kelly had some pretty killer style in Season 3, when she was all depressed and unsure of herself and Going Through Some Changes. Her look got sort of grungey and was so much more interesting to look at than Brenda's never-ending parade of bodysuits and men's trousers.

3. Pre-reality television Tori Spelling. Such innocence, such foolishness.

4. Plots that hinge on such life or death melodramas as "Will the deaf kid have a good time at the beach club?" and "Whose earring is this on your futon?" and "What do you MEAN, Dylan doesn't know how to use a barbecue?" HEADY TIMES!

5. Legacy keys. True story: there actually was a legacy key at my undergraduate college, back when guys and gals still lived in separate dorms the way the great Bishop John Strachan intended it and the boys passed around a years-old key to our building to let themselves in and sneak themselves past the Commissionaires. Now the whole place is co-ed, and probably guarded by retinal scans and robots. Progress.

6. Dylan McKay. I still have a crush on Luke Perry. There, I said it. I defy you to disagree. Those sideburns, that furrowed brow, the modest reserve with which he tells Brandon he's already read all the books on the senior reading list. (footage unavailable.)

7. This isn't really a thing, but for the record, I feel really sorry for Steve Sanders. I used to tell people Ian Ziering was my favourite 90210 man because it just seemed like the poor guy couldn't catch a break.

8. Pre-internet culture. These dudes spend time at the LIBRARY, man! WITHOUT LAPTOPS! They go there to SOLVE MYSTERIES and even reference visiting the periodicals department. My heart, it's so full.

9. Television writing that doesn't assume even a basic intelligence in its viewers. Plot holes so big you could drive Steve's Beemer through them.

10. Line dancing. In earnest. I'm so stoked that YouTube actually had a clip of this scene. Cut to about the 12 second mark.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer reading club.

Here's what summer is made for.

1. Reading children's books. I just cracked the spine on The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and can't believe it never found its way to me when I was younger. It's got that nerdy, puzzly, E.L. Konigsburg vibe that has rocked my world since I was about seven, and I'm pretty grateful that Mac on Veronica Mars made a reference to it to bring it into my life.

1a. Pausing to think wistfully about Veronica Mars, and how great it is.

2. Diving head first into teen books you should have read when they came out but forgot to check out because you're no longer lucky enough to work with some bitchin' teen librarians who tell you what to read all the time. First on my list: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan.

2a. I've had a real thing for John Green for a really long time, and that passion has not waned. If I'd discovered him as a teenager I think I'd have been so much more comfortable with my own geekiness, and also, so very much in love.

3. Folk rock road trips. I'm off to Perth to the Stewart Park Music Festival, arguably this country's best free fest. I'll be the one throwing myself at Dan Mangan and drinking pinot grigio out of a Nalgene bottle.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Resist, resist.

Some of the best moments in life spring out of resisting your first reaction to something. There's a theory in Ayurvedic medicine, the sister science of yoga, that whatever you're feeling, you should act in a way that makes you feel the opposite. I'm not doing it much justice with that bald language description, but basically, if you feel exhausted, don't take a nap--instead, go out for a walk, get your energy moving. If you feel wiggy and buzzy and over-excited, don't run it off--sit down and take some deep breaths and relax already. When I can, I try fairly earnestly to follow this directive. It works, I tell you. It works.

Case in point, last night. I got home from work and felt like I was ready to go into a cocoon. I have to admit, one of the things I hate about summer is that it seriously cramps my hermit style--how the hell can I justify burrowing under the covers and watching seventeen episodes of Arrested Development while drinking a mug of wine when the beautiful blazing sun is still high in the sky all evening? All I wanted to do was lie down, but I just couldn't justify it. Instead, I wandered over to visit a dear old friend with four dear, hilarious kids. In so doing, I was offered one of the best protracted moments I've had in weeks: After they'd all been herded like drunk kittens into their pajamas, I got to read out loud to them from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Here's what's delightful about reading out loud to kids.

1. They LISTEN. They see you holding a book and they just know something good is happening.

2. They interrupt you to observe the best things, like "How did Augustus Gloop get so fat? Even his NAME is fat."

3. If they've been raised in a certain way, they just know books as books--we were reading Charlie in a glorious vacuum devoid of movie tie-ins and product placements. A story is just a story.

4. If you're really lucky, they'll curl up right next to you and absent-mindedly play with your necklace and twist the buttons on your sundress and by the end of it all you'll emerge looking just as disheveled as they do.

5. They'll remind you of just how magical a book can be, and of how joyful you can feel just by sitting and reading and nothing more.

I tell you, it was pretty special, even for this cynical old broad. I wandered back home and pulled James and the Giant Peach off my shelf and continued my Roald Dahl love-fest. I tried to read the way I read when I was a kid, without the filters and lenses of everything I've been exposed to since. It was hard, but it was worth it. Resist, resist. Redirection is hard, but oh, the payoff is sweet.

Then I treated myself to a little floor-lyin' and Royal Wood-listenin'. I think I deserved it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How I spent my summer vacation.

I was off work last week. Following three days of birthday-related bacchanalia, I poured myself off the couch and read the following.

1. Daughters-In-Law by Joanna Trollope. If there is one thing I love, it's a good British society melodrama. Trollope's books exist in this totally unrealistic, upper class version of the UK that I absolutely adore, where the biggest problem in a woman's life is that her new mother in law didn't react appropriately when she announced her pregnancy and where people make their living drawing pictures of birds. This is my idea of a perfect beach read.

2. Bossypants by Tina Fey. Oh god, I love her. I love her so much. I can't even go down the road of quoting my favourite bits of this book, because my favourite part, to borrow a phrase from the kids in the summer reading club, was ALL OF IT.

3. The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin. This was one of those "journalistic non-fiction"-y books where the author reimagines conversations between Timothy Leary and Huston Smith and Aldous Huxley, awkwardly. The best part of this book was the thread about how Andrew Weil basically sold Leary and his fellow Harvard researchers up the river because he was jealous of all the LSD they were doing. As a reward, the university and the government helped him procure a bunch of pot and he later got away with publishing a buttload of research about how marijuana wasn't that bad for you. This is a great book if you have a couple of hours to kill and would like to pretend to "learn about social history," or if you would like a reminder of why you should never do acid again.

I also listened to the Decemberists, a lot. They're the masters of the nursery-rhymey, folk-pop-hook-y music that I love so much.

Friday, June 24, 2011

the birthday project: still alive at twenty five.

In June 2005, I turned 25. I was living in Vancouver at the time, in the middle of two years of grad school, feeling very mature and uncertain. I'd decided not to come home for the summer and it was a source of constant tension and horrible near-daily phone-fights with my then-boyfriend, who was still back home in Onterrible, as we expats on the fairer coast called it. As my birthday drew closer I felt sadder and sadder about not being at home with my friends, who were all going to see Modest Mouse play a show on Toronto Island on my big day. I felt as if the universe were doing me a pretty grave injustice (this was pretty much my resting state for most of grad school).

My parents sensed my angst over the phone many times over, and made the incredibly generous decision to fly my baby brother out to Vancouver as a birthday present. He arrived the day before, and I dragged him to the Naam, the world's best vegetarian restaurant, home of the cashew-avocado enchilada that I basically ate by the pound while I lived out west. I was always lucky to have visitors when I lived far away, visitors with whom I could share the incredible miracle of the ocean, the mountains, the clean air and steep streets that humbled me each time I left my apartment on Arbutus. Noah and I hiked in Stanley Park and he was appropriately amazed.

On my very birthday, Noah announced that Mom and Dad had sent him with enough cash for a good dinner for the two of us, along with my roommate and soul twin Tara. I got it in my head that I wanted Indian food, so we found the fanciest Indian restaurant we could find, a place whose name now escapes me on West Broadway, and schlepped on up there in our nicest jeans. We ordered so much food that the waiter raised his eyebrows and said, "Are you sure?" We replied that, oh yes, indeed we were. At one point the owner came over to ensure that we were satisfied with our meal, convinced that we were Somebody.

Afterwards we took a guitar and some cans of Granville Island Honey Lager down to Kits Beach. We had a bonfire singalong that included a stirring rendition of Big League by Red Rider, and listened to the waves hit the shore. On our walk home, we broke into the salt water pool and swam surreptitious circles as sirens wailed in the distance--they weren't for us, but it sure felt like they might be. We stumbled home and fell asleep. I woke up early the next morning, smelling of saline and smoke, and called in sick for work.

Tara took to referring to Noah as the People's Little Brother after that, for his willingness to do ridiculous things like break into pools and order extra drinks and keep the bonfire going. I felt pretty lucky to have a little brother who was worthy of mass appreciation. I spent a lot of my time in Vancouver feeling homesick in the best possible way, and that night I felt so glad to have a piece of home riding shotgun.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the birthday project: dirty thirty.

In June 2010 I turned thirty. I spent the week before my birthday at home with my parents, making jam and going to see Christopher Plummer in The Tempest and doing a lot of yoga. After breakfast on my birthday, I barreled up the 401 back to Kingston, a town I'd fallen in love with, a town I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in.

My best friend Freya drove down from Almonte and we drank afternoon champagne cocktails. My boyfriend brought me flowers. My oldest friend Danielle lived a few blocks away, and we strolled on over to her house and into a backyard filled with friends. My gift from them was a water bottle filled with wine spritzers, and we drank in the streets all the way downtown, where we went on the Haunted Walk of Kingston. I cannot recommend this tour highly enough, although you should probably be intoxicated when you go, because most of the ghosts are actually invisible and/or puddles of water on the ground.

Afterwards, we ate pizza and drank a lot of drinks, and then Freya, Tom and I stumbled home along the side streets North of Princess. Tom and I stayed awake nearly till the sun came up, listening to old records and talking each other's ears off. The next day we went camping on the pine-covered point of the property Tom had just bought. Danielle and I paddled the canoe there while the menfolk made their way on foot. Our little boat was filled with precious cargo, including a violin and a guitar for a late-night singalong. Tom had bought me a tent for my birthday, and we set it up on the shoreline. I jumped into Eel Lake, our lake, THE lake, and thought to myself, Well, this is it. This is all you'll ever need.

Monday, June 20, 2011

the birthday project: feeling fine, twenty nine.

On June 24th, 2009, I turned 29. My friend Freya had informed me that your 29th birthday was actually one of the most important birthdays of your life, because it represented the Return of Saturn, the end of your first 30 year cycle. She told me that whatever was going on around your 29th birthday would dictate what your life would be like for the next thirty years. I love that kind of gravitas--makes me feel more alive.

A few weeks earlier, I'd made the move I should've made years before, from my sweet little apartment on First Avenue in Ottawa to my sweet little apartment on Charles Street in Kingston. Leaving Ottawa made me feel like the lights had been turned back on in a room that had been dark for too long. I was falling in love with Kingston, and falling further in love with someone else in the process.

The weekend of my birthday, I drove back home to Hamilton to have dinner with my parents. Our usual quiet cocktail-hour celebration evolved into a wicked party with a generous handful of my best people. There is no greater feeling than watching a car filled with your closest friends drive up to your house, then helping them move a sleeping bag from the back seat only to discover your furthest-away friend hidden underneath it. We ate spring rolls and drank champagne and smoked covertly and rocked the hell out till my mother came back outside to tell me to stop singing Midnight Train To Georgia for Christ's sake, the neighbours were trying to sleep. The next morning I drove back up to Kingston feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.

On the morning of my actual birthday, my friend Jacoba and I went for a run. Kingston is a great running town, sloping streets and old houses and a waterfront trail that passes by Martello towers and street people and helicopter landing pads. We ended our jaunt at Pan Chancho and ate pastries instead of a proper breakfast, because their power had been out all night and their ovens weren't working yet. I went off to work, where I hadn't told anyone it was my birthday, because I didn't know any of them very well yet and I really hate being the centre of attention. I felt like I was keeping a really, really good secret.

the birthday project: lucky thirteen.

My thirteenth birthday fell on a Thursday in June of 1993. In celebration of what was, at the time, a colossally monumental day (OH MY GOD I AM A TEENAGER), my parents had a really embarrassing picture of me as a kid published in the Announcements section of the Hamilton Spectator. Some of my friends found it before school and had it blown up and taped to my locker when I got in. I had never felt so embarrassed and loved at the same time; it was an emotional combination platter that would become more familiar to me in the years ahead.

In some ways I was one of those kids who was always very mature for her age. In other ways, it was basically a miracle I didn't still drag my security blanket to school. Case in point: my thirteenth birthday was the first year I didn't ask my friends to come to my party in some sort of costume (dress for your dream vacation!) or under the pretense of some hyper-involved craft (plaster mask making! DESIGN YOUR OWN PIZZA!). Instead, we ordered pizza from Pizza Pizza, and then my parents dropped us off at the movies to watch Jurassic Park UNACCOMPANIED BY ADULTS.

I'm pretty sure Jurassic Park was rated PG-13, because I was concerned that one of my friends, who was still only twelve, might not be able to get in. The hype leading up to the release of that movie was unlike anything I'd ever experienced--for reasons that now seem silly, the whole damned universe was so incredibly excited to see realistic dinosaurs on the big screen. While I remember practically nothing about the movie itself (in spite of the fact that our family later bought it on VHS and my brother and I probably watched it twenty times), I do remember that feeling of being caught up in some kind of zeitgeist. Perhaps this was the beginning of my life as a pop culture vulture.

I think we lied to my parents about what time we needed to get picked up so we could just stand outside the movie theatre yelling at passers by for awhile. I felt alive then, suddenly careening toward independence, dizzily wondering if now that I was a teenager, a boy would pull his car over and ask if I wanted to go for a drive. Of course, no boys pulled up (no boy in his right mind would try and interrupt seven thirteen year old idiots on a sugar high in the Centre Mall parking lot), and my parents came to collect us just as it was getting dark outside.

A lot of things changed for me that summer. I stopped listening obsessively to Broadway musicals and started listening obsessively to Pearl Jam, Sloan, and AM 640, with its unique combination of Top-40 hits and late-night phone-in shows. I inherited my first pair of Doc Marten boots. I craved a maturity I hadn't earned yet. And sometimes late at night, alone in my bedroom, I began to feel the creepy, tiny stirrings of the sadness that would wash over me in the months to come, the sense of helplessness in my own body and my own brain that would colour the next few years of my life. But the night of my thirteenth birthday, I was still just straddling that precarious line between childhood and adolescence, screaming at the top of my lungs.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

the birthday project: hocus pocus, caitlin's five.

In today's installment of the birthday project, we travel back to the days of Cabbage Patch Kids, and machine-knit kitten sweaters.

I turned five on June 24th, 1985. We had just sold our house on Holton and were gearing up for a move even further east, to Huxley Avenue, to the house where most of my important moments over the next twenty-odd years would take place. I didn't know that yet, though. I just knew that we were moving, and that I wouldn't have to take the bus to school anymore. (During the previous year, my mom, who didn't drive yet, bused and taxied me and my baby brother across town every day to the nearest French Immersion school, so that I'd be able to get into the French senior kindergarten class the following year. She is fucking hardcore.)

Most of our stuff was already packed, so I remember my party taking place in a room with sheets covering the remaining furniture and floors. The way it looks in my memory is a lot like how the house looked at the end of the series Growing Pains, nearly empty but for a few inexplicably-as-yet-unpacked family photos and trinkets.

My parents hired a magician for this party. As was my custom for most of my childhood and adolescence (and, who are we kidding, adulthood too), I had a complete and utter meltdown as soon as the attention was on me. I listened to most of the magic show from the confines of my upstairs bedroom. Before every trick, the magician had everyone shout out the magic words, "Hocus Pocus, Caitlin's Five!" to which I would scream "SHUT UUUUUUP!" from behind closed doors.

I'm sure there was also a cake, somewhere. Maybe hidden under a sheet.

Friday, June 17, 2011

the birthday project: hey, nineteen.

I've had some pretty killer birthdays in my time. With my Big Three One coming up next week, I thought I'd take a little trip down memory lane, starting with the year I became a liquor-buying adult.

I turned 19 in June of 1999. I'd finished highschool the previous January, and instead of doing what most kids do with six months of free time (Go To Europe! Start University Early!), I'd whiled away the days working part-time at the library, going to a lot of really sketchy raves, and smoking a tremendous amount of hash. My birthday fell just a few days before my highschool graduation; it was also the day of my last-ever piano recital. Preoccupied with my impending ascent to the age of majority and all the freedom and fear that this transition held (also, very stoned), I had really shit the bed on practicing my piece. I performed a series of postmodern variations on Land of the Silver Birch, poorly.

After the recital my boyfriend and I went over to a friend's house, the kind of friend whose mother was never home. We smoked pot out of a bong made of an old Slurpee cup--a special edition Slurpee cup, shaped like an alien. My parents had given me a bottle of Blue Nun wine as a present which remained unopened that night. I remember finding it really funny that on the first day I was actually allowed to buy booze, I didn't drink a single drop. Years later, I found out that Blue Nun was Judy Garland's favourite wine.

A few days later, we all graduated from highschool. There was a huge party at my friend Kathryn's house. Kathryn and I would go on to become insanely good friends when we went away to the same university, but at the time we'd only had a couple of classes together. My boyfriend showed some other kids from our class how to do bottle tokes out of a peach schnapps container--we had quite the makeshift pipe repertoire in those days. All in all the whole night felt like an out of body experience. I had the sudden, bracing feeling that I was ready for this particular chapter of my life to be over. A few months later, when I moved to Toronto, it was.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Library life.

I've been a little distracted lately, hence the lack of scintillating updates. Mostly I've been learning how to do my job and also learning how to live after yoga teacher training, both of which I think I'm getting pretty good at. I pretty much love my job, because I'm working in the kind of library that makes me remember why I love libraries so much: it's small, but not too small, and super busy, but not too super busy, and so far I've only had to have stern words with two kids. Anyway, you learn a lot of things about a community by working in its library, and here is what I've learned about mine so far.

1. A staggering number of people watch the show JAG. Were you aware that this show existed? I sure wasn't.

2. Runescape is still so, so popular, guys. I cut my professional librarian teeth on kicking kids off computers for swearing at each other while playing this game, and I am amazed that it's stood the test of time in this era of short attention spans.

3. Young stoners still get awesome ideas in their heads, like that they want to learn to play the spoons. Then they come into the library to get a card and ask us if we have any books on that (answer: HELL YES).

4. It's one of those neighbourhoods where well-intentioned seniors call the library for reference help because they feel like they need to keep us in business. Result: I get to answer questions about things like which tv network is showing the French language leaders' debate and whether I think Absolutely Fabulous is to racy for a bunch of ladies in their seventies (I am not exaggerating, not even a little).

5. I've never gotten to serve so many university students interested in books on how to go vegan on the cheap. (see above re. HELL YES.)

In conclusion, you know who I never listen to anymore? The Dandy Warhols.

Monday, April 11, 2011

escarpment blues.

What a difference a few years make. The last time I was home in Hamilton for more than a couple of days, it was summertime, and I was working on the Bookmobile (best job anywhere, ever, hands down). At least twice a week on our route, we'd drive past the Red Hill Creek and the site of the proposed expressway. The Creek was this awesome refuge in the middle of the city, the kind of hidden secret that makes Hamilton such a great town to live in, a spot that at least three generations of people remembered playing at as kids. They'd been loudly threatening and then promising to destroy the place to expand the highway, but the voices of the people involved in the protests against the destruction were even louder (at least among the people I was talking to). It was a cause people believed in, a crusade to save the land, to protect the fragile ecosystems of this little golden horseshoe of ours. It was a fight that seemed close to being won.

Eight years later, I'm here again, and last week I had to drive on the Red Hill Valley Parkway to get to a meeting. I can't believe they have the gall to name it after the natural landmark they decimated to create it. It didn't help me shave any time off my commute, but it sure did make me feel a little weepy. I threw on Escarpment Blues by Sarah Harmer and had a bit of a moment. Sometimes you can't even win the good fights, even when it seems like everyone's on your side. At least there's some hope in the fact that people still keep fighting.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home.

Most people move back in with their parents when they're in their twenties. Still young, still fresh and idealistic, still physically and emotionally prepared to escape the confines of the basement and paint the town till all hours. But if, hypothetically, you move back in with your parents when you're in your thirties, the situation is, hypothetically, different. World-weary and bone-creaky, the thirtysomething basement-dweller would rather just hunker down and hide out, resist all attempts at socializing and catch up on her hypothetical reading. Not that I know what that's like, or anything.

Hypothetical Basement-Dweller Reading List

1. Back issues of The New Yorker. Because suddenly, you find yourself with enough free time to read an entire twenty-odd page article about Paul Haggis and Scientology. Warning: your parents will get sick of you telling them how bat-shit crazy Scientology is at about page seven. Keep it to yourself.

2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Because you've spent months scoffing at its popularity, as you do with all popular books, but now, humbled by your current circumstances, you decide to give it a chance. And then you discover that it is wonderful--a sweet, difficult, emotionally-wrenching portrait of women's lives and racial tensions in the 1960s South that will leave you weeping on your pullout couch.

3. Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson. Because you've never been much of a mystery reader, but books set in England are inherently enjoyable, and Kate Atkinson is just such a damned good writer, and because you just can't resist a plot line about a dithery elderly stage actress teetering on the brink of disaster. Also, maybe because someone gave you a free copy.

None of these tickling your fancy? Still stuck in an existential quandary? Then I recommend just closing all the drapes and doors and listening to Peter Elkas till the pain goes away.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

position paper: Hot Tub Time Machine

Hot-Tub Time Machine actually has some pretty great moments.

1. One character is a lapsed musician who gave up on his rock and roll dream. When he goes back in time and is reunited with his band, he realizes he can totally steal songs from the future and claim them as his own. Given the chance to claim any song ever written after 1986 as his own, what does he choose? Jesse's Girl by Rick Springfield. Hell to the yes.

1a. Rob Corddry's character eventually does the same thing with Home Sweet Home by Motley Crue.

2. Crispin Glover, best known in my family as the guy who played the dad in the Back to the Future franchise, has a cameo as a one-armed bellhop. It's so meta!

2a. How pumped were YOU when the opening sequence on the Oscars referenced Back to the Future? Answer: SO pumped.

3. The last scene of the movie features an "OMG THIS IS THE FUTURE" montage accompanied by Same As It Ever Was by the Talking Heads. I have a soft spot for filmmakers who aren't afraid to score the obvious songs, because oftentimes those songs are obvious for a reason, you know?

Man, I love working for an institution that lets me borrow and watch movies like this for free. I can almost convince myself it's an act of cultural edification.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Libraries: where shit gets real.

I have worked in a lot of libraries in my day. Libraries are weird, weird places. No one ever believes me when I say that, but they really are. They are not quiet or serene. They are holding tanks of human energy teetering on the brink of glorious collapse. One of the reasons I love this racket is the sheer anarchy of them, the precarious balance of so many different people with so many different agendas crammed into one poorly-ventilated, fluorescent-lit space. It's kind of like working inside an episode of Candid Camera, where I have the limited authority to kick someone out if they pee on something. The people who work in libraries are fascinating, too. I TOTALLY GET those posters that say "You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it sure helps," because I TOTALLY LIVE THAT. Something happens to those of us who spend most of our days interacting with a wide and varied cross-section of humanity and helping them locate books about Canadian birds written at a fourth grade level and/or instructions on how to build a log cabin. You start to get a little squirrelly. Shit gets real in the library, on both sides of the desk. Last week I started a new job at an old library, and I was thinking about the things that do stay constant from one space to the next and how delightfully random they are. Here's a by-no-means-exhaustive list of things you are bound to find at your local library, if you look hard enough.

1. Someone who sells Avon.

2. A sink full of egg-shaped maracas covered in baby spit.

3. A cupboard containing an empty cookie tin that no one ever retrieves, which you occasionally open up just to see if maybe, oh please god maybe, someone actually took it home and brought it back full.

4. A very common-place item with very complicated usage instructions (in this case, a ladder that no one can use until they have had Ladder Training).

5. Scratched copies of every Disney movie you loved as a child but had forgotten about till just now (in this case, The Great Mouse Detective).

6. A kid who will come in asking for books like The Odyssey or To Kill A Mockingbird and spend the whole reference transaction starting at your boobs.

7. The collected works of Kathy Smith. There's something unsettling about the fact that I can still borrow the very same aerobics video I used to do in my parents' basement as a teenager and relive those fuzzy memories of adolescent body dysmorphia all over again (coincidentally, still in my parents' basement. Although they have moved, so it's a different basement. But still.).

8. Someone who sincerely believes that the table she sits at every day belongs to her. And if you want to get philosophical, it really does belong to her, and to everyone else in the space who helped fund the place with their generous tax donations. Although usually she's not feeling very philosophical when you try to reason with her.

Libraries are so ridiculous, and I am so glad that I don't really know how to work anywhere else.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Home is where the TV is.

Thomas Wolfe once wrote that you can't go home again. Clearly he never had to move back in with his parents in a pinch, like I did last week. I know there's this whole pop culture thing about skulking home, this notion that it's supposed to be funny-sad, like when a clown has to move back in with HIS parents. Iain Reid captured that sense of feeling like the butt of your parents' jokes in his hilarious, wonderful, heartbreaking memoir, One Bird's Choice, which I read in preparation for my own move back to the nest. Everyone should read his book, because it is fantastic, and he is a solid dude, as I learned when I interviewed him for last fall's Kingston Writersfest. He writes about how his father spends an afternoon shredding all his elementary school valentine cards and then drags him to the gym, and about the post-it notes his mother leaves on the cheese drawer so he'll know which cheese not to feed to the cats. Seeing as how I am sitting at my parents' living room table surreptitiously drinking their wine and eating a mango because my mom left a note next to it instructing me to chow down, these stories make me feel like I am less alone.

All self-deprecation aside, though, I worry that I might actually fall on the other end of the spectrum. I don't really mind being back home. In fact, I kind of love it, to an alarming degree. After years of living alone, I love coming home to some company, and some dinner on the table. I love basic cable, although my addiction to Come Dine With Me is reaching fever pitch. I love walking down the street with my dad to go skating at the park. I love hanging around on Sunday mornings drinking seventeen cups of coffee I didn't have to brew myself. I love that nobody knows my phone number. Friends, this is getting dangerous.

In conclusion, hey there, Hamiltonians. We should really hang out. My parents are away till Friday--want to come over tomorrow night? I can offer you free Grand Marnier and a television that will not migrate too far from the Slice network.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Last things.

Everything's boxed up and ready for the movers tomorrow. I am currently conducting business from my Mobile Command Unit, which is essentially a stack of milk crates and a couple of yoga blocks. My fridge is home to one clementine and half a jar of salsa, and I am on my fourth coffee of the day. It's Zero Hour, friends: that delightful point in the relocation process where you've taken the curtains off the windows so the neighbours can watch you weep openly as you stuff another loose screwdriver into the box marked "miscellaneous fragile" and wonder what the hell you are doing.

I hate moving. It makes me antsy and weird. I'm a Cancer, which means I am an antisocial homebody. Living out of boxes is bad for my spiritual complexion. Every time I move, I wonder why I don't just run back home to my parents' house and hide away forever. Happily, this is exactly what I'm doing this round, so maybe, just maybe, this will be the last time I ship out of anywhere. I sure hope so.

On the other hand, I love moving. Leaving someplace behind gives you free license to nostalgise the hell out of it, and given that I've fallen harder for this little town than for any other place I've ever lived, I have a lot to think back on with fond wistfulness. Here's a rundown.

Best freelance gig: Kingstonist, the Limestone City's finest blog. Rarely does an editor give you complete support and editorial control, not to mention free wine. Come to think of it, I really should've taken more advantage of the opportunity to promote my Marxist-Leninist pro-labour agenda.

Best poutine: Pita Grill on Princess. Discovered lamentably in the twilight of my tenure.

Best place for an all-encompassing epiphany: Yoga Samatva.

Best place to see a show: The Grad Club. Thanks, Virginia,
for making sure I got to see all my favourite bands here.

Best road out of town: A few months ago, Highway 38 toward Holleford Road would've had my vote. I still urge you all to drive it sometime, because it's really pretty gorgeous. But times change and now I'm solidly in the Highway 10 camp, because it leads to Westport, sausage rolls, and eventually, my best buddy in the world. I'll always love driving north out of Kingston, regardless of which route I take. I love going from city to country so damned fast, disappearing into those rolling hills.

Best Plot To Take Over the Library Universe Breakfast Meeting Place: Star Diner. If you like your revolutions with a side of the world's best hash browns, this is the place for you.

Best friends: Aw, you know who you are. Thanks for the memories, my dear pals. You haven't seen the last of this lone wolf.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


In times of transition, I find I need a lot of crutches to prop myself up. A few of my old standbys have reared their ugly heads in the last week or so. I rely on the sublime and the ridiculous to get through the sheer mayhem of packing, drinking, overthinking, and general solitary contemplation. Hello, old friends. I've missed you.

1. Coffee. Sweet nectar of the gods. I think the thing I'm going to miss most about Kingston (besides all of y'all, of course) is Coffeeco, and their epically amazing cappuccinos.

2. Dolly Parton. I love her. I just. love. her. She makes me feel tender and kickass at the same time.

3. Calvin and Hobbes comics. Nothing beats the sweet pondering and sincere existentialism of the world's most endearing smart aleck six year old. I recommend the Tenth Anniversary Collection for fellow fanboys and girls, but if you love Bill Watterson like I do then you probably already own the first edition.

4. Wallace Stevens. So help me god, I'll be a self-righteous English major till the day I die. The Course of a Particular slays me dead.

5. Cyndi Lauper. Presented without comment.

Monday, January 24, 2011

idiot wind.

The top 5 songs that are distracting me from packing right now, Ray Lamontagne doing covers / Dylan covers / Dylan free association edition:

1. Ray Lamontagne and David Gray--Dig A Pony

2. Ray Lamontagne--The Man In Me

3. Bob Dylan--If you see her, say hello

If you see her say hello Bob Dylan
Uploaded by darkwell91. - Explore more music videos.

4. Ramblin' Jack Elliot--Don't Think Twice, It's Alright

5. Wilco--Company In My Back

...I always need to throw a little Tweedy in there. He's like a fine sorbet, cleansing the palate.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Literary tag sale.

Over the years I have acquired a truly prodigious collection of ragged library discards, and tonight, in anticipation for my latest move, I tried to cull the shelves. THIS IS A HARD TASK. Here's what made the cut, and what didn't, and what I still can't make up my mind about.


Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews. (A classic. And also the first book I can remember borrowing from the library, and then reading surreptitiously, and then thinking to myself, I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY LET ME CHECK THIS BOOK OUT. Come to think of it, this book may be responsible for my library career.)

Baby-Sitters Club Super Special # 6: New York, New York! (I am re-reading this critically acclaimed tome in anticipation of my trip to the Big Apple next week; if I can be even half as sophisticated as Stacey McGill, my life will have been a worthy one.)

The entire Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry. (I always wanted to be a character from the Baby-Sitters Club, but really, I knew I was a huge nerd like Anastasia. Also, in the first book, when her parents ask her what she might like to name her baby brother, one of her suggestions is "One-Ball Reilly.")

Forever by Judy Blume. (I can't let go of the book that was responsible for my romantic and slightly creepy impression of what sex would be like.)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Because someday, just maybe, I will actually read it.)

Teen Star Yearbook by Grace Catalano. (How else will I remember that Scott Grimes' favourite food is hamburgers? Or that George Michael's favourite sport is badminton? Or that Ricky Martin, of Menudo, is looking for a girl who is "serious and responsible"?)


Deenie by Judy Blume. (Scoliosis is so 1974.)

Bunnicula by James Howe. (Oh I loved this book but it smells like mothballs.)


Sweet Valley High # 66: Who's to Blame? by Francine Pascal. (Elizabeth is running away! I need to know what will happen!)

Liberace: An Autobiography. (I have problems. Serious problems.)

I hate packing.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Start as you mean to continue.

On New Year's Day, my mother called me to read me my horoscope over the phone (this is a fairly regular occurrence, but the January First version was much weightier than usual, on account of it was a horoscope for the WHOLE YEAR). She told me with interest that the astrologer for the bible said that Cancer gals like me should "start as you mean to continue." At the time, I was hung over and doing my best impression of Baby Huey following an epic New Year's Eve dinner here, and my mother's call was interrupting my Veronica Mars marathon (Logan Echolls, I would like to buy you dinner.), so I didn't think much of it.

Three weeks into 2011, though, I can say with certainty that if I have indeed started as I mean to continue, this year's going to be legendary. So far, I have interviewed for and accepted my dream job, decided to move back to my hometown, learned how to teach people to twist their spines like pretzels without fear of injury, lost my credit card, and sat through ninety minutes of gong meditation (a literal gong show, if you will). While I am concerned that if I keep up this frantic pace I may not sleep till 2012, I am also amazed and a little freaked out at the sheer power of the human mind. For the past few months, I'd been willing my life to change, but wasn't really sure how to make it so. And then, suddenly, it all just kind of happened. Thanks, universe!

The best part is that writing that last bit reminded me of the bit in The Big Lebowski where Walter quotes Theodore Herzl: "If you will it, it is no dream."

I think I'll leave it there for now. I promise many more weird, existential updates about packing up my apartmentas my move date gets closer.