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.