Saturday, February 25, 2012

you, sir, are an idiot.

As part of my ongoing resolution to give up dudes for the forty dark days of lent, I am engaging in many exercises of self-encouragement and self-dissuasion. In that spirit, here is a by-no-means-comprehensive list of the dumb shit I have done in the name of wooing boys.

1. Pretended to be interested in libertarianism.

2. Pretended to be interested in minimal techno music. (In fact, this one actually turned on me and became real, although I think I was under the influence of several mind-altering substances at the time.)

3. Read a book by Slavoj Zisek and feigned an understanding of Lacanian psychoanalysis.

4. Listened to way too many of Mahler's symphonies more times than I care to admit.

5. Went to see a really bad documentary about Beethoven. IN THE THEATRE.

6. Lied about my abiding love of The Smiths so he could tell me more about them.

7. Pretended not to have a car so he could walk me home, thereby incurring a 50$ parking ticket for staying on the street overnight (thanks again, City of Ottawa, you vile hellmouth).

8. Considered converting to Catholicism (those were dark days).

9. Considered moving to Argentina so he could do a post-doc on something that had nothing to do with Argentina.

10. Baked peach cobbler in a third floor kitchen the size of a broom closet on the hottest day of July, nearly dying of heat exhaustion in the process, so I could impress him at a potluck.

11. Got lost in a blizzard outside Perth, Ontario, searching desperately for a beer store at which to buy him Creemore tall cans. (I have since learned the location of every liquor outlet in eastern Ontario.)

12. Spent no less than a million dollars on Go Train tickets to Oshawa (although really, those were some damned fun weekends, and he made me some incredible mix tapes for the long trips).

I am such a good feminist.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

the valentine project, part 4.

February 14, 2010, Kingston, Ontario (and points north).

This Valentine's Day actually began on February 13th. It was a Saturday, and my brother's band played a show at the Grad Club that night. Tom drove down from the woods for the occasion--it was no small feat getting him out of the wilderness, especially once the snow had started falling, and I was pretty damned happy that he trekked out. We'd gotten back from Mexico about a month earlier, and ever since our return we'd been closer than ever--more comfortable, quietly and easily moving in and out of one another's lives, finding our patterns. I'd been in love with him for two years already, but that winter, I fell for him all over again--this time openly instead of secretly, this time in a way that was reciprocated, reflected back, absorbed. It was the most normal we'd ever been.

So that Saturday night we slid down snowy streets to the Grad Club. My best friends Harold and Danielle came with us. We drank a lot of Guinness. After my brother's set, I was talking with him at the back of the bar. He was going through a rough time, and told me as much. All I could really do was hug him hard and fierce, and it hurt so much not to be able to do anything else.

Tom and I stumbled home, and on the way he told me that his cat, Puff, hadn't come home yet. The thing about Puff is that he was, categorically, the greatest cat you will ever have: funny and stand-offish and cuddly and the best hunter imaginable. Puff had somehow survived four winters in the wilderness, killing mice and frogs and snakes, taking off for days at a time and coming back like a conquering hero. The thing you need to know about Tom is that he was, in many ways, closer to his animals than to his people. He loved that cat so much--not as much as he loved his dog, but a close second. He always talked about how Puff was going to meet an untimely end in the woods at some point, but it was always an abstract, half-joking hypothesis. He never fully believed it would come to pass. So when it did, when a week had gone by without so much as a paw print in the snow, we knew that it was probably the end of Puff the Magic Kitten's reign over the Canoe Lake homestead. And as Tom finally admitted this to me in the early hours of February 14th, as he cried so hard his shoulders shook and his legs gave way, I put my arms around him. For the second time that night I felt like I couldn't really solve a damned thing, so I did the only thing I knew how to do, which was hold on. The only way out is through, as they say.

The next morning we slept late and woke up feeling fuzzy-headed.

"I'm taking you out," Tom announced. "We're going out for breakfast."

"Do you know what day this is?" I asked him, fairly certain he did not. "Do you know how many other idiots are taking their girlfriends out for breakfast as we speak?"

His face clouded over momentarily, and then cleared. "I don't give a shit," he declared. "We're going."

It was the closest to romance he got.

It took two tours around town, one unsuccessful attempt to find a parking spot at Denny's, and finally a trip out to the Township before we finally settled on a restaurant that seemed to be somewhat empty. It was an All You Can Eat Sushi place, and it was fantastic. We gorged ourselves on MSG-laden tuna rolls and then made our way back out to the country for the rest of the weekend; thirty-six hours of urban living was about Tom's threshold.

That winter, Tom still had the place on Canoe Lake. It was one of the best winters for skating I'd ever seen: the lake froze in December and stayed that way till March. Canoe Lake was originally part of a longer river, until a causeway constructed around 1910 dammed it up, but it still had a long, estuarial shape. It was also a deep lake, so deep that even when the ice was thick and firm, it was blue-black and ominous instead of white. It was like gliding over a prehistoric black hole. That afternoon, we laced up our skates and shot up and down the lake over and over, to the tiny island we'd swim to every summer and back, throwing balls for the dog and letting the wind numb our cheeks. There was not a soul around for miles. That waterway was our wide world.

That night, we warmed our bones by the woodstove, drank red wine, and watched Tootsie on the television, passing out partway through. I remember waking up to him dragging me off the couch, up the stairs, into bed, where I fell asleep again to the sound of the wind whipping at the windows.

The next day was a holiday Monday. Tom drove me into town just in time for the arrival of an army of librarians on my doorstep--we were celebrating Pancake Tuesday a day early, since we all had the day off. We spent the afternoon drinking champagne and gorging ourselves on white flour and syrup, and when everyone left, I had a nap.

This is the Valentine's Day that breaks my heart the most. It was a weekend in which the world handed me all the things I love: music, family, food, friends, boys who need me, towns that feel like home, and long, clear paths to skate away on. In some ways I do not think I will ever know this perfect confluence again. In other ways, I know it was not perfect at all, not by a long shot. But at the time, I just couldn't stop falling in love, with everything, with everyone, over and over.

the valentine project, part three.

February 14, 2011, New York City.

Last February, I packed up my house in Kingston and drove back home to Hamilton, where, in what I viewed as a colossal step backwards, I moved in with my parents while I house-hunted and got adjusted to a new job. I had spent most of January wondering what in sweet holy hell I was doing leaving a town that I loved so hard, and by the time I finally rolled into the driveway at Mom and Dad's, I was more than a little frazzled. Luckily, I had two weeks of freedom before my new job started, so I did what any self-respecting closet Sex and the City fan would do: packed up my costume jewelry and knee-high boots and hopped on a plane to New York City.

One of my best friends, Kat, had been living in New York for the past year or so, but last February was my first visit. We spent three blissful, boozy days in the Big Apple, which was snow-covered and somehow quieter than I remembered. During a recent snow storm, Kat had begun taking photos of the mind-blowing inefficiency of New York snow removal, and we continued this surprisingly entertaining project all weekend. We got our nails done on my first day in town, an activity that set the tone for my visit. We have never exactly been the kind of girls you would describe as classy, but that weekend we put on a pretty good show.

On Valentine's Day, I made her ditch her boyfriend. There's a certain kind of friend who will do sketchy relationship stuff like bail on one's boyfriend on a day reserved for demonstrative love and opt instead to get drunk on the street with a girlfriend. Kat is that kind of friend (come to think of it, all my best girls are), and I love her for it. We pulled a self-aware Carrie Bradshaw impression and went on a date with the city. Our stops included the Guggenheim Museum, the Carlyle Hotel bar (where we drank twenty dollar Sours and eavesdropped on high-needs socialites), a restaurant called Cafeteria (where we drank twenty dollar Caesars and flirted with waiters too beautiful for this earth), and finally, the Chelsea Hotel, where regrettably, there is no bar (although the front desk clerk offered us some vodka from a stash under the counter). We stood in line for last-minute opera tickets, but didn't get in (like most things in New York, even queueing up for something is somehow exciting and cosmopolitan). We stumbled home to the Upper West Side, full of soul food and gin, in love with that wonderful town and the incredible possibilities lurking around every corner.

I flew back home the next day and had a hard time readjusting to my non-New York reality. I've thought many times since about how much I really do love New York, just like the t-shirt says. It's the kind of city you never visit twice, because everytime you get there, you see completely different things. It's a place where you feel two-hundred percent cooler when you walk down the street for no reason at all. And there's no better way to see it than with an old friend who understands the importance of framing cultural outings with proximity to cocktails, who understands the dance between low-rent and highbrow, and who can also spot a Brooklyn hipster from five miles away.

Monday, February 13, 2012

the valentine project, part two.

February 14, 2003, Toronto, Ontario.

That year, Valentine's Day fell on a Friday. I remember this because neither my then-boyfriend nor I had classes that day. We were in our final year at Trinity College at U of T, living off-campus in two different houses, each hilarious and sketchy and entertaining in their own ways. It was a constant push and pull that year about whose house we'd crash at--we'd basically spent the two previous years living together, first in his tiny residence room (I only went home to shower, watch the Young and the Restless in the common room, and get sloppy-drunk with my best girls before stumbling back across the street to go to sleep), and then in an ill-fated attempt at cohabitation with two other friends in what we lovingly dubbed the Portuguese Key-Cutting District of Toronto, a West end neighbourhood that is now way cooler than it was when it was the only area in our price range. After that year of sharing a bedroom nose-dived us into near-breakup territory, we made the mature decision to live under separate roofs for our last year of school, although we still spent nearly every night together.

So on that particular Friday in Toronto, we woke up in my poorly-heated house on Walmer Road. I'd spent half of the night having an overblown anxiety attack about the university's exam schedule, which was set to be posted first thing on the 14th. I only had one exam that year (Chaucer. Oh, Chaucer. What a fine way to spend every Thursday evening) and so dreaded the possibility that it might not be scheduled till the last day of the exam period, which, at U of T, went on for approximately seventeen months. I'd been kicked in the tail by this sort of late exam curse every year of my academic career, and it was horrible. I was a fairly neurotic student, and I was so damned ready to bid goodbye to my undergrad career. The first thing I did after jumping out of bed was get online, only to discover that HOT DAMN, my exam was set for the very earliest possible day. Naturally, I interpreted this as a sign from the universe (a decision likely propelled by our tendency to wake and bake whenever possible). Feeling high on freedom, among other things, we set out to spend the day together.

Our relationship was a sweet one, most of the time, characterized by the things that draw two people together when they're young and broke and too smart for their own good: long days and nights spent in bed discussing our desert island records, second-hand CDs, cheap nights at the museum, afternoons trolling bookstores with our arms around one another. Though we both pretended to deplore romance and goofy sentimentality, we also not-so-secretly loved going on Dates, getting dressed up (which in our case usually meant a slightly less faded pair of Value VIllage corduroys and maybe a borrowed peacoat), walking around town, just being two crazy kids in love. Toronto was a good city in which to be head over heels. It was a place where you could delude yourself into feeling like an extra in a low-rent Woody Allen movie about silly heartbreak.

That Valentine's Day, we took advantage of the city at our feet and our empty schedules. We had breakfast at our favourite breakfast joint. We smoked pot on Philosopher's Walk, that funny little pathway between Trinity and the Royal Ontario Museum, the scene of so many of our best and worst nights. We made our way to the movie theatre to see a matinee of Chicago (to this day he is still, I think, the only boy I've ever known who would sit happily through musicals), and eventually walked all the way home to his place in Little Italy. There, his housemates were watching a documentary about Michael Jackson that had captured the attention of the Western world that winter. We watched it in amazement, and tried to parse it in some kind of anthropological, academic way (never underestimate the insufferability of a gaggle of humanities students). Eventually we climbed up to bed, and fell asleep together, spooning, perfectly connected.

It's nothing special, I know. I don't know why I remember it so specifically, but I do. I know every couple goes on dates like this. Maybe that's part of why I love the memory so much: because it feels so uniquely mine, and yet it's not all that different from anyone else's. We're all walking around starring in the movies of our lives, playing supporting roles in others' stories while assuming the lead in our own. There's a whole lot of loving narrative going on on these streets of ours, and regardless of how tragic the inevitable ending might have been, there's something nice about knowing you've contributed your own little piece of the story to the pot.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

the valentine project, part one.

I have the usual modern gal antipathy toward Valentine's Day, but I'll be damned if I'm going to pass up the opportunity to reminisce about old friends and lovers. This will be the first in a (hopefully very short) series of Valentines I have known.

February 14, 1998, Hamilton, Ontario.

I was a fairly cynical, boring teenager. I had a group of friends I loved and occasionally we did dorky-badass teenager stuff like get drunk on Dial-A-Bottle-procured vodka and listen to the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack super loud and take off our tops when boys were around. Mostly, though, I kept my head down in highschool. I was silently jealous of the popular types, because sometimes it really did seem like they were having a better time than I was. But really, I was pretty certain that something far better than this dysfunctional universe was waiting for me on the far side of my eighteenth birthday. So I put in my time.

Probably the most typical aspect of my teenage life was my turbulent highschool sweetheart relationship with a boy I started dating when I was seventeen. We were together for two years. We fought as much as we laughed. We passionately disagreed with each other's taste in music (although we also conceded that nevertheless, we each still had better taste than most of the people around us). We were symbiotic and parasitic at intervals. We drove our friends crazy (although other couples drove us just as nuts--all's fair in love and highschool). And we lost our virginity to one another on Valentine's Day. The fact that this came to pass is now hilarious to me, as we were probably the two least romantic people in the world at the time. It just seemed like such a good idea.

The whole thing was so elaborate and complicated. We made the decision a few weeks before February 14th, upon realizing that my parents were going to be out that night, and spent the next little while planning the hell out of it. I even talked my mom into buying me a new bed for the occasion, although she didn't know the reason behind that particular Ikea trip. I remember putting that frame together with the most incredible sense of gravitas. I was giving up my single mattress on the floor, and BECOMING A WOMAN.

It was a Saturday. I'm pretty sure I cooked him dinner beforehand. He gave me a pair of earrings that later made my earlobes turn black. The years have misted over my memory of the done deed itself, and I don't remember any details other than a sense of utter awkwardness, and also complete relief to have gone through something so totally weird with someone I knew so well. The next day I watched Roman Holiday on TV and felt quietly mature, like I was in on the secret of adulthood.

On Monday, of course, we told our friends. After all, the only proof you ever had was in the telling of the story.

My best girlfriend gave me a knowing hug during a cigarette break between periods.

My best guy friend said, "Well, that was pretty dumb."

"Excuse me?" I replied.

"You'll never live up to that feeling again," he explained. "Nothing can top that. You've pretty much ruined Valentine's Day forever."

In some ways, I think he was absolutely right. Still, I wouldn't change a thing.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

wholes and parts.

When you get to be thirty-one years old and have yet to find that one person to share your life with (or rather, when you find the person to share your life with only to realize that the lives you're trying to intertwine are so wildly and insanely opposing in nature that you risk collapsing the universe in the attempt, prompting you to each skulk tearfully back into your respective corners), you start to justify things. I should probably take a moment here to reassure you that I am by no means unhappy on my own--far from it. It's just not where I saw myself when I was younger. Coincidentally, it's not where most other people saw me either, whether they knew me well or not. The lone wolf lifestyle is anathema to a lot of people's perception of what's worth dreaming about, which means I often find myself explaining to other people that really, I'm okay, and I don't sit at home by myself eating can after can of Campbell's Healthy Request Soup, praying for a suitor. (This sort of justification is probably largely the symptom of my work environment, which is populated on both sides of the reference desk with well-intentioned and wonderful women of a certain age.) Anyway, a funny thing happens when you're defending your life choices on a regular basis: You actually start to believe that you're in the right place, and that you may have actually done things for the right reasons.

One of the epiphanies that's been coming to me over and over these days is that while I might not have found my soul mate, I found something much better: a whole string of them. Serial monogamists are a lucky breed: we get to fall in love over and over again, collecting keepsakes and sweet cargo along the way. (Also crippling emotional baggage and additional copies of books and albums that you never really liked in the first place, but that's not what this post is about.) Here are a few of my more fortunate treasures.

1. A personalized NASA Space Camp souvenir pin. Seriously, it has my name on it, and it is incredible. Gifted by the first boy I ever fell in love with, who snagged it while on a highschool orchestra trip. And yes, I recognize that placing a Space Camp pin in the same category of some of the other things on this list might seem ridiculous, but when you have a hard-to-spell name, this sort of thing really MATTERS.

2. A solid year spent traipsing across Devonshire Place, away from my own room at St. Hilda's and toward my then-boyfriend's never-dull all-boys dorm, where we'd brush our teeth side by side under the wise beacon of a Hooters calendar and huddle and cuddle ourselves to sleep in one very tiny single bed, every blessed night. I've never been a good sleeper, but those nights, I always nodded off fast, in a tangle of limbs, to the sound of his nightly promise that we'd see each other again in a couple of hours. He was nearly always right; back then we populated each other's dream lives as much as our waking ones.

3. Late nights spent noodling around on not one but two adjacent Steinway pianos in a fire-warmed living room in the middle of nowhere. Helping to house-sit for some criminally irritating neighbours had its perks. If there is a better feeling than playing After the Gold Rush on a grand piano as a man you think you just might care about puts his arms around your shoulders, I have not found it.

4. Sitting up with a start in the half-light of an early winter morning and struggling to get your bearings in an unfamiliar room, steeling yourself for the day ahead. Turning at the touch of a warm hand on your back, and looking down at a smiling face on the pillow next to yours.

"You have a beautiful back," he tells you. "If I could paint a picture of it, I would."

"Stoner," you reply affectionately, nervously, noticing your heart jump up into your throat, hoping your blush doesn't betray that deep-down, terrifying feeling that this is Something.

Sometimes the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but sometimes the parts do a pretty grand job of covering the spread.