Monday, December 30, 2013

albums of the year, 2013.

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

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

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

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

Laura Marling--Once I was an Eagle

David Bowie--The Next Day

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

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs--Mosquito

Haim--Days Are Gone

The National--Trouble Will Find Me

This album is perfect.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 27, 2013

the days we hit the coast: halloween.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


...reblogged from my new(ish) Tumblr,, where I endeavour to re-imagine my own day to day conversations as excerpts from bad chick lit. Please check it out.

"I don’t know why you want to get here so early," his sister told us as we got out of the car at the airport. I wasn’t sure either, really. I guess I wanted to get it all over with, skip past the horrible goodbyes to the part where I was drunk on the plane. That part came easy.

When we got inside I found out my flight was delayed. I felt like I was going to throw up. Ridiculously I felt like someone waiting to head on over to the electric chair—I’d steeled myself, told myself I had exactly this much time till I’d say goodbye, convinced myself I could survive till the moment of departure if I just took deep breaths. Adding another hour of waiting should have been a blessing, but instead it felt like torture.

He was a real good sport about waiting with me—he usually was, I’d discovered. “Do you have any change?” he asked me. “I’m kind of thirsty.” I did, and I bought him a drink, some orange pop I’d never heard of before. “They make it here, he told me, passing the bottle to me for a sip. “It’s the best orange pop in the country.” He talked, and I listened, and leaned into him. We babbled, as we’d been doing for days. There was something about the way we could talk to each other that calmed me down. I avoided looking at the security gates. I tried to keep myself as close to him as I could, practically burrowing into the sleeve of his hoodie. Only days earlier we’d shared our first awkward hug in the Arrivals lounge, just steps from where we now sat. What had felt so tentative before now felt so steady and certain.

They called my flight and I started to cry, which wasn’t anything new at this point. “You’re SUCH a good crier,” he told me again, and I laughed and snorted and generally looked like a soggy toddler in the midst of a tantrum as we kissed and hugged goodbye one last time. I couldn’t even turn around to wave to him one last time; I thought it might kill me, vaguely believed it might turn me into a pillar of salt.

Months later he told me that after he called his sister to come and pick him up, he came back inside to see if I was still there, but I wasn’t. The couple who’d been sitting down the row of seats from us in Departures asked him, “Did you guys just break up or something?”

"NO," he told me he replied, as though it were the most absurd conclusion anyone could ever come to. "I mean, really," he said to me, "do couples who’ve just broken up spend every last SECOND together like that?"

"I don’t think so," I replied, "but weirder things have happened."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labour Days.

It's been eight years since I flew back to Vancouver from Toronto. I'd been home for the last few weeks of the summer, nursing a brand new broken heart, travelling around the province by Go Bus and Via train and back seats, I was crashing on couches, eating my mother's cooking, trying to get it together. "Keep it classy," my best friends advised me on my last night in Ontario, heading out to a party at my old house on Crawford Street, running into my now inexplicably former love, travelling into the past. I kept it classy, or tried to, saving my tears for the run up the block after the party was over. My first day back in Vancouver was the Saturday of Labour Day weekend, and it rained on the walk back from the Granville Island Market, and in a moment I could feel the damp sink into my bones. I could tell the summer was over.

It's been five years since I drove back to Ottawa from Hamilton. I had come home to host a wedding shower for my best friend Danielle, a sunny, perfect afternoon in my parents' backyard that devolved into a regrettably boozy evening out on the town. Driving back to Ottawa with a hangover added insult to injury. What am I heading back to, I wondered, smoking out the window of the Civic, blasting Amy Winehouse to keep myself awake, unable to stop thinking of the man with whom I suddenly found myself in love. I was terrified to say it out loud, even more scared to ignore that feeling, push it down. A week later our emotions would get the better of us and we'd admit, exhaustedly, what we felt deep down, admit we were completely wrong for each other, admit we had no idea what we were doing. But I wasn't quite there yet.

It's been four years since I drove back from Almonte to Kingston, after my best friend Freya's sweet baby boy's first birthday. Everytime I drove back to Kingston I felt so relieved. I was in a happy daze that weekend, making jam, doing yoga, walking quiet and dilapidated streets around the North end. On Sunday the man who'd seemed so wrong a year ago called me up, as he often did now, and asked if I wanted to go for a swim. Of course, I replied, of course I do. We drove out to the secret little beach just past Porstmouth Harbour, and he threw the frisbee for the dog while I paddled back and forth along that oddly lagoon-like bit of Lake Ontario. We ran into Freya's sister on the way back to the truck, off to run her own dog, and I felt safe in a town full of familiar faces and easy intimacy.

It's been a year since I woke up on Sunday morning, and called my best friend Kat to tell her I was on my way over to convoy up to her cottage. We'd spent that Saturday at the Harvest Picnic at Christie Lake, wandering between Gord Downie and the taco truck and the beach, feeling sunburnt and stoned on music and so happy to be home. Something was happening, someone new was around, and for the first time in years, really, I could feel my heart opening up again. It wasn't long after that it all blew up in my face, as, perhaps, I always knew it would. But I wasn't quite there yet.

This year I realize I've spent the past three Labour Days running away from Hamilton. It's been awhile since I called any town home for longer than a couple of years; not to mention I never could've conceived of once again calling Hamilton home. That teenage vow to leave and never return could only last so long--the pull is so strong, the visceral realization that you need to get back to your own magnetic North. And as safe at home as I may be, sometimes I feel my feet start to itch. Usually there is a direct correlation between the level of my heartbreak and the urgency of my need to escape. This year I'm holding tight to my heart, tending fresh wounds, hoping beyond hope that I can stay patient and kind as things apparently get weirder and more magical with every passing moment. I'm still not quite there yet. I might never be. As safe at home as I may be, I keep an escape route in my back pocket. I figure it can't hurt to have a secret dream.

Monday, August 12, 2013

on mermaids.

Earlier this summer, I was up at a cottage on the Hawk River near Carnarvon. Every day we'd head down to the local public beach on Halls Lake, which is arguably one of the finest lakes in Ontario. It's deep and clear and dotted with midcentury cottages, tiny wood cabins built into the Canadian Shield, not a Muskoka monster boathouse in sight. Even better, for a long time it was a dead lake, so the frightening fish sightings are few and far between. For those who don't know, while I love lake swimming more than most other things, I am not a fan of underwater life. My worst nightmares are ones in which I am trapped between aquariums. My mom used to pretend to pour bleach into the lake to convince me she'd killed everything off before I'd dip so much as a toe into the water. A few years of partnership with a dude who lived on a wild and fish-filled lake (and the consequent desire to not look like a total wuss) have lessened my terror somewhat, but not much. All of which is to say, ecological concerns aside, a fishless lake is my happy place.

So we'd go to Halls Lake at least twice every day. A couple afternoons in, some local yahoos were blasting Thin Lizzy from their car on the beach while they drank Bud Light on the floating raft a few metres from the shore. The noise pissed me off to no end (for all my big talk of respect and acceptance I am surprisingly intolerant), but luckily my mother talked me out of just reaching into the car and turning off the stereo. Treating it as an object lesson, I dove into the water and found silence under the surface.

A few minutes later, I noticed an older woman asking them if they'd mind shutting off the radio. She had a sturdy, confident look about her, grey hair and tanned shoulders and a towel wrapped around her waist. She seemed fearless. The yahoos heeded her request, and soon there was quiet above sea level as well as down below. It felt like a relief. I watched the woman out of the corner of my eye as I swam back and forth. She stopped to talk to my friends back on shore, and later I learned from them that she was from Germany, that her sister married a Canadian after World War II, that she had been coming to visit her up here every summer for years. In the following days, I saw her with her sister, swimming long, steady laps back and forth in the deeper part of the bay. I loved the narrative arc of it all. I loved her strength. I loved watching their solid, hearty bodies moving gracefully through the water, their heads bobbing above the surface as they talked and talked.

Last week, I found myself diving into yet another lake. This time it was Irish Lake, a shallow body of water randomly plunked down in the farmland south of Owen Sound, where my best friend Kat's family has a cottage. Last year that little lake became my sweet escape from an adolescent and melodramatic summer, and it felt so good to be back there. Kat and I have always had this way of cancelling out each other's neuroses; our key methods include Vinho Verde and secret bacon breakfasts and long, lovely swims.

"The Irish Lake Mermaid Squad, reunited at last," Kat said as we dove in that first night. We've been referring to ourselves as mermaids since sometime last summer; one of the best things about best friends is the unabashed permission to behave like a ten year old at a slumber party.

Every day, Kat and I swam out to the deepest point in the bay, both of us feeling quieter and more at peace than we'd felt in weeks. One windy afternoon we canoed around the lake, me and my embarrassingly weak J-stroke at the helm. A few weeks earlier, Kat had sent me an article about how mermaids were the new vampires.

"We're ahead of the curve," she informed me.
"Always," I replied.

One evening as we swam slowly back toward the shore, I thought of that woman at the beach on Halls Lake, gliding across still water, catching up with her sister, making the same movements she had probably made a million times over a million summers. I wondered if she felt any older than she'd felt the first time she came to visit. I wondered what it was like for them to be reunited that first summer. And I wondered at what point she became fearless, unfettered by thoughts of drowning, unconcerned about the reactions of others, calm and confident and grounded in herself. It's a point at which I hope to find myself one day. It's a point I work towards with every breath, with every laugh, with every dive into the deep. We grow more graceful underwater, I think. Softer, more alive, more aware of our movements. It's a feeling I want, always. It's a feeling I can find, over and over again.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

summer mixtape.

Prompted by the fact that I never update my iPod anymore, and also by my obsessive love of summer playlists, here is a short but sweet compilation of albums by bands I have been listening to for a depressing amount of time (more than ten years, to be precise) and who, as such, remind me of my own horrible mortality.

The Strokes--Room on Fire

Even though I've been listening to this record fairly consistently since it came out ten years ago, it really reminds me most of my first summer in Kingston back in 2009. I think I put Reptilia and The End Has No End on every mix I made that summer. Arriving in Kingston I felt freer and younger than I'd felt in years. That August I drove out to Almonte along the gorgeous back roads of Frontenac County, on my way to my best friend's wedding, listening to the Strokes and Plaskett on repeat. I felt like I'd finally figured out where I belonged.

Weezer--the Blue Album

I know I reference Weezer and kissing boys a LOT, and I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but look: If I'd had a baby with the first dude I kissed while listening to this album, that baby would now be nearly finished college and asking if it could move back in for just a few more months while it got its independent coffee shop/performance space up and running (my imaginary babies are INCREDIBLY creative and intellectual).

Thrush Hermit

I've loved Thrush Hermit ever since they did the theme song for Street Cents on CBC back in the early 90s (I have been a public broadcasting nerd for a long, long time). I found a used copy of Smart Bomb at Dr. Disc when I was 13 or 14 and listened to it all the damned time. I couldn't get over their clever, poetic lyrics, the wordy jokes they made; I'd found my nerd-rock gods. A little while later, my best friend made me a series of amazing mixtapes to listen to on a family trip out west, and she put The Great Pacific Ocean on one of them. I rewound it and listened to it over and over again. We had a complicated, overwrought, intense friendship, and I missed her like crazy while I was on the other side of the country. Listening to that song I felt my heart leap and sink and break and mend a thousand times.

Elliott Smith--Figure 8

Here's a fun story about this record: I bought the CD at Chapters on Bloor Street in Toronto, during my second year at Trinity. The dude who worked in the music department there was really cute and nice, and he seemed pleasantly surprised to be helping someone find an Elliott Smith album rather than something operatic or otherwise Yorkvillian. "Are you a Nick Drake fan?" he asked me, and I admitted that I had never heard of him. "He's an amazing singer songwriter who killed himself before he really got recognized," he told me, and found me a copy of Way To Blue: An Introduction To Nick Drake, which, naturally, I bought. I stopped by my boyfriend's residence room on my way back to St. Hilda's to show him my purchases. "You didn't know who NICK DRAKE was?" he asked incredulously. "Well, did YOU?" I countered. Of course, he did. He then got really sore about the fact that a cute boy had prompted me to buy a record and we got in a fight. A year later, we were both in a Canadian Literature class and there was this British guy in the class who looked and sounded EXACTLY like Nick Drake, and when I pointed it out to him, my boyfriend declared me a genius. It was one of a handful of running jokes that somehow carried us through an ill-advised year of sharing an apartment. A year or two after that, Elliott Smith killed himself, and I wondered if I had somehow made it happen by buying his album at the same time as another misunderstood suicidal genius.

Belle and Sebastian--Lazy Line Painter Jane

The same boyfriend put this on a mix tape for me once. During our first summer, both of us lived back in our hometowns, and we'd take turns hopping on the train from Hamilton to Oshawa to visit each other. One Friday night he picked me up in the dark at the Oshawa GO Station, and blared this song on the drive back to his parents' place. It was dark out, and chilly for a June night. I'd heard Belle and Sebastian plenty of times before, but never this song. The sound of it made me want to lean against him, burrow down, nod my head till I nodded off. But we weren't that close yet, or maybe we just weren't that honest yet. So I just told him, "I really love this song." It was a time when it was easier to tell him I loved a song than that I loved him. "I figured you would," he replied. "It's on the tape I made you."

Friday, July 5, 2013

music to like boys to, volume 2c: postcards from tiny islands.

Third in a series. Catch up here, and then here.

You arrive on a rainy Thursday, feeling somewhat crazed. He's not waiting for you by the baggage carousel and for a moment you wonder, did I make him up? Is this a trick? And then suddenly there he is, and suddenly you're hugging awkwardly, and suddenly you're in a taxi to the Best Western downtown. You lean into him carefully as the cab crawls down wet streets. Don't tell them you're sharing the room with me, you warn him, suddenly certain that you want him to stay. Do you WANT me to share? he asks. Of course, you reply, I just don't want to have to pay the extra ten bucks. It's more than that, though. It's also that you like sharing a secret.

One day you rent a car, and at first neither of you see quite sure what to do with it. You drive to his house so he can pick up a change of clothes, and then downtown, and then finally back to the hotel to park it before walking back up the block to the pub. It's cool and drizzly out, and after a walk along the waterfront you scurry back to the hotel for a nap. You fall asleep as he bearhugs you close. When you stir, and decide to roll over, he doesn't seem to wake up, but he loosens his hold, opens his arms, lets you get settled before gently wrapping them around you again. Oh man, you think. Oh man.

The next morning you head out on the Trans Canada toward the west side of the island, en route to a cottage on a cliff occupied by an old friend. He doesn't have a license, or much of a sense of direction. You hate driving. I hate driving, you tell him, white knuckles on the steering wheel. Maybe let's pull over and check the map, he replies. He's steady, somehow, in spite of it all. He buys you a bag of Cheezies at the gas station. I've been here before, you think.

Having found your bearings, you keep driving. He puts on the latest playlist he made you and tells you why he chose each particular song. Your heart melts and you get only slightly lost on red dirt backroads. At the cottage there are little girls offering copious high-fives, treks through sleeping lofts and power tool nooks and half-built forest forts. Your dear friend leads everyone down to the beach as the tide is coming in, and as you dip your feet in the shallow water, tiny crabs scuttling around your feet, he wanders off and looks at the erosion lines along the red rock. It's pretty neat, he says, interested and excited at the idea that his little island is sinking into the sea. I read somewhere that in a hundred years none of this will even exist anymore, he tells you. Leave it to you to find the endearing quality in someone fascinated with end times.

The girls send you on your way with a bouquet of wildflowers in a juice glass and you drive onward. You choose to trust the insane GPS on your new Fancy Phone and it leads you down every unmarked country road between Bedeque and Cavendish. Everything is so green and so vast. He is an incredibly good sport about following you around Green Gables. In the front entry you spot a 1980s era phone on a low shelf and shout, Look, it's Anne's original touchtone. The historical interpreters are remarkably cheerful about your outburst. Well, she had to call Diana SOMEHOW, one replies. That was surprisingly fun, he tells you in the car on the drive home, soundtracked by Joel Plaskett. You feel warm and tired and if you weren't in the driver's seat you'd lean right over and put your head on his shoulder.

The afternoon nap becomes a ritual, and when you wake up in his arms again you don't move right away. You don't want it to be over quite yet. You order pizza and watch episodes of the Simpsons with the commentary track on, half listening and half narrating the episodes to each other. It's Saturday night, and you head to the bar. The guy working the door is a friend of his and gives you a deal on the cover. Later when he goes back to thank him, the doorman smiles knowingly and says, I didn't want you to look bad in front of your guest. The bar is packed and his cousin's band is playing but you spend most of the evening out on the back porch, giggling and giddy. At one point when you return from inside, it takes you a few minutes to sneak your way back into the seat next to his, and when you make it he tells you, Boy am I glad to be sitting next to you again.

Me too, you reply.

Later on, you walk back to the hotel in the rain. You have an umbrella, but you don't bother to get it out. This is something, you both admit to each other. This is definitely something.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

music to like boys to, volume 2b.

A sequel to a previous entry, which can be found here.

The winter passes, and spring creeps in slowly. Girl is sick, a lot, and spends too much time online, conducting business from the couch with episodes of Homeland playing in the background. Boy gets a new job, and either doesn't have enough to do or would rather talk to Girl online than paint the wall behind the theatre's urinals. It works out pretty well for both of them, at least Girl thinks so. Boy and Girl spend an inordinate amount of time discussing an inordinate amount of things. It's comforting, being involved in and aware of the minutiae of a person's life. Every time there's a blizzard warning Girl looks at the weather online, checks to see if it's coming in from his direction or heading from her toward him, suddenly curious about the patterns of movement up and down the eastern seaboard. It doesn't matter, not really, but she likes the idea that they might both survive the same storm, days apart.

The first truly warm day of the year is a Wednesday in May. That afternoon, spring fever gets the best of Girl. She buys a plane ticket to the island where Boy lives. Boy and Girl ask for, and get, the time off work. Girl trawls the internet for a hotel room and Boy advises her on which spots are okay and which spots are roach havens and which spots don't actually exist. Girl is thankful for the help.

At first the flight feels so very far away, an abstract and vaguely wonderful thing. Girl blinks, and suddenly it's time to go. Now it is high summer, almost too hot to be outside in the evenings. Girl checks the weather forecast obsessively in the days before she leaves, feeling strangely hopeful about the possibility that it will be cooler there.

Boy makes Girl a mix for her birthday, and for her travels. Here we go again, Girl jokes, remembering the long ordeal of their first music exchange. This time, though, it's easy peasy, downloaded in seconds. Girl uploads the songs to her Fancy Phone (things sure have changed on Walton Mountain) and it becomes her soundtrack for sun-soaked walks to work. It's the kind of hot that makes you feel dumb and dreamy. Summer fever doesn't have the same ring to it, but that's what it is. Boy says he hopes she won't find the playlist too weird or jarring, and truth be told, it is an odd one. Girl hears Bowie followed by Snoop Dogg followed by Thrush Hermit and feels more optimistic than she's felt in a long time.

The night before she leaves, Girl listens to the mix. She's overpacking, as usual. It's hard to tell what she might need when she gets there. You can't really trust the forecast; it creates the dangerous illusion that you can be prepared for what's ahead of you. She knows she'll never be fully ready for whatever's waiting for her on that tiny island, but she'll try. It's raining when she leaves Toronto and raining when her plane touches down, and as she walks across the misty tarmac she wonders if the rain followed her across the provinces. Not that it's all that important. What's really important is on the other side of the Arrivals door.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Three Junes, part 1.

In the spirit of one of my favourite books by Julia Glass, here’s the first in a series of June memoirs.


Three years ago I was still in Kingston. Earlier that spring, the love of my life bought a little piece of the wooded Canadian Shield paradise that is South Frontenac County, and suddenly our weekends together shifted. There was work to be done, ground to clear, boxes to pack. He was going to live that first summer in a trailer, if he could get the goddamned excavator to come the hell out to his property line and dig up the fucking road (I am paraphrasing). For some reason every goddamned excavator in the County was overbooked that spring, and as the end of his lease at the old lake house wound down, things got a little bit hairy. He was not exactly a patient man, prone to panic and worry (two peas in that particular pod is a recipe for disaster; I see that now). It was an uncertain time. Every night I'd fall asleep praying that the goddamned excavator would arrive the next morning. He had his buddies coming the first weekend in June to help haul the trailer up the hill, and there was no way that would ever work without a road to haul it up.

That first Friday of the month, I took the day off work. I woke up to my phone ringing (when you are in love with a non-technologically-inclined hermit, you spend a lot of time talking on the phone. After years of internet dating and passive emails, I found it insanely refreshing).

"That motherfucker is here!" my one true love shouted into the phone. Obviously the goddamned excavator had risen up the ranks to motherfucker status. "I've got a fucking ROAD!" I nearly wept with joy. Small miracles come in strange places.

I drove up to his place later that afternoon and watched as two trucks and one trailer somehow caravanned up a road that was a road in the very loosest sense of the word. I did what I always seemed to do: provide moral support and CDs to listen to and ingeniously weird meals cooked over an open flame. It was nearly dark by the time the boys finally had the trailer situated. I'd been promised a trek to the lake, but it was too dark for that now. I didn't mind, though. We’d have all summer to go swimming. The trailer’s stereo only played tapes (and came, it is worth noting, with cassette copies of both the Smiths’ and the Monkees’ greatest hits), so instead we blasted our music from the truck and sat by the fire till late that Friday night.

The next morning we hiked the treacherous path from the clearing to the water, and I jumped in off the old dock. It wasn’t my first swim of the year, but it felt like it was. No one else was out on the lake and the water was still and cool and perfect. It felt like a balm after a day and night of hard labour and hard drinking. I felt the summer coming on that morning, the promise of so many more days like that one, so much more of the freedom and stillness and the quiet broken only by Gord Downie’s voice on the stereo. I felt myself come home.

I drove home to Charles Street later that afternoon, after a baking-hot trailer couch nap. Jammie and Freya arrived a few hours later. We had planned to run the Beat Beethoven race the next morning, but when Freya got out of her car and realized she’d only brought one running shoe along, we kiboshed that plan (probably not a bad idea, given our horrifying track record at that particular run, but that is a story for another day). That night we made our way out to Wolfe Island, where the Great Lake Swimmers played a fundraising concert for the Swim Drink Fish project. We crowded into an old town hall and drank sketchily-prepared vodka cranberries and took the late boat home.

Walking home from the ferry terminal, I thought to myself, how lucky am I, to have the ones I need so close by, to love a man who loves me back tenfold, to walk into the water just steps from both my front doors. I spent most of my time in Kingston falling in love with the place over and over again. No place has everything you need, but my lord, did that sweet town and the countryside around it ever come close.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

affairs of the heart.

It's hard to be the Cool Girl, to pretend indifference. It's hard for me, anyway. I don't hide my emotions with even a modicum of grace, hard though I may try. Part of the problem is that I have too many feelings to hide. I wear my heart on my sleeve. Sometimes, really, I feel like my heart's wearing me. Which is good, I think. Hard, but good. More and more I'm realizing that I'd rather teeter on that heartbreaking edge, so full of love and nerves that I'm sure to fall right over, chest first. I'd rather feel too much than too little.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I am absolutely horrible at dating. I have no poker face, and I am an emotional fire cracker, and I REALLY hate it when people don't intuit all that super quickly. It never ends well.

When I started dating, I was a WHOLE lot worse. I gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. I was coming off a five year relationship that had ended badly, and naively hoped that the next dude I met would be the dude I would marry. I didn’t have time or energy for any other outcome. This could be--no, WILL be--the one, I'd always say to myself, though I never really meant it. But it's nice to hold out hope. I'd hold out hope, and I'd let people get away with a lot. Oh, you're in a 12 step program? That's okay, I am really happy that you're on the path to recovery. An ex accused you of date rape? Well, acknowledgement is the first step toward atonement. Sorry you forgot your wallet, no no, I've got this one. You're falling in love with me and telling me so on the third date? Great! Yeah, maybe we SHOULD move in together! In those days it was a very short path between the first date and my best friend coming over to help me change my locks. And yet, I pressed onward. Over the years I learned to steel myself against the inevitable insanity of riding in cars with boys, but it was all purely superficial. I could only hide my heart so much, and nine times out of ten I'd end up betraying my Cool Girl exterior, letting my utter excitement or complete disappointment shine through.

And here's the problem with that: in dating, it always seems like you end up feeling the exact opposite of how you ought to, in any given situation. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man you really really like on the first date would probably prefer to be friends ("You're such a great girl, though.") and a man with whom you shared absolutely no chemistry would like to marry you ("I can't stop thinking about you, here is a terrible poem."). Affairs of the heart exist in a delicate balance, and the scales are perpetually tipped in the wrong direction. This is a really hard thing. It makes you feel like you don't really know what you're looking for in the first place. It makes you feel untethered and uncertain. And when the good things do come along, it makes you wonder if you can really trust that they are the good things. You start feeling like you need to play a version of yourself rather than trust your own instincts, like you need to protect yourself. And it is fucking exhausting.

I don't really have a great piece of advice to tie this one up. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be working on figuring it out for the rest of my life. But recently I was on retreat with my first teacher, and she told me something that amounts to this: if you feel firm in your own foundation, rooted down somehow, you'll be grounded enough to let things into and out of your heart. You'll be secure enough to open up. You'll know what's right. I really liked that. I'm not there yet, but I hope I will be someday.

So yeah, I still give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I'm a little more careful now, but I'm also a little more certain of who I am and what I need. As I get older, I get more and more comfortable with the fact that I might not get everything I need from one person. And yet, I foolishly still believe in soul mates. Granted, I'm pretty sure I'm never going to meet my own, but I bet he's out there, trimming his beard and thinking about writing a letter to the editor about community gardening, considering which version of Bob Dylan's Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You he likes best (It would be great if he was into the one from the Rolling Thunder Revue recording, but I'm not picky, I'm really not). Knowing my track record, he's already married to someone else. Maybe I'll catch him on his second pass. Till then, I'll keep on looking. I'll let more people in. I'll take calls from boys I've never met, boys who live far away and yet seem to know me better than I know myself. I'll let the ones I have met drive me home and keep me warm. I'll keep promises and accept them from others too. I'll keep on looking. Something's out there for me, and I might not know exactly what it's supposed to look like, but damned if I'm not going to seek it out.

(Footnote: It's wicked hard to find ANY original version of Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You on the internet, so here's a worthy substitute. Really, as long as he's into Nashville Skyline, he can stay on my soulmate roster.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

some nights.

Some nights you don't mean to be out till all hours, but it happens. You intend to just stay put, but then one of your oldest friends calls and tells you he's on his way past your house and is coming to collect you. You walk up to his place, taking alleys and shortcuts, sneaking cigarette drags. Spring fever looms large and it's easy to justify spending too long with people you don't see often enough, old friends and their girlfriends, husbands and wives. You walk home after midnight and can't get to sleep. You can't believe how long your trail spreads back behind you, how long your stories are getting.

Some nights you stay up too late after getting up too early. You go out for too many drinks before the evening's really begun. Someone who seems to be around a lot more these days picks you up, and you end up at a karaoke bar. Through a series of circumstances and uncertain steps in a new direction that do not warrant a public airing, you're feeling nervous and self-conscious and more than a little drunk. You cope the only way you know how, by singing your heart out. Your rendition of Midnight Train to Georgia impresses the table of well-intentioned and equally tipsy fiftysomething women next to you; you've always been good at making friends with people twice your age. Later, driving home, there's a Smashing Pumpkins song on the radio, and as you pull up to the house where you're spending the night, you try and remember the first time you ever heard it. You think to yourself that when you were young, you probably imagined that things would be simpler by the time you got to where you are now, that you would be certain of more. Granted, it is hard to be certain of much at 2:00 in the morning, other than the promise of sleep, the strength of arms wrapped around you, the relief that the night is over.

Some nights you can barely keep your eyes open till the sun sets. After spending a day outside, keeping busy in the garden in an attempt to stave off a creeping anxiety that too often takes hold, you feel spent, and yet you cannot bring yourself to relax. It takes the gentle prodding of someone you've never met, someone whose voice on the other end of the line always manages to make you laugh and calm you down, to set you straight. Go to sleep, he tells you, gently. Alright, you reply. How your heart can want so much, so many, so very far apart, is beyond you, and maybe it always will be. But sometimes you realize that's not for you to sort out right now. Sometimes you just need to be told what you already know.

And some nights you walk home from yoga and marvel at the fact that the sun's still up, that it's warm enough to wander without a jacket. You have that quiet, heart-full feeling that you get after you practice, sad and happy and opened right up. You listen to Wilco, because that's always what you feel like listening to on your way home from yoga. The streets are still bright, and you smile shyly at the people you pass, feeling vulnerable somehow, but also hopeful. When you get home, there's a message from your best friend that another member of your sweet karass is in the final stages of labour, about to push out her first beautiful baby. Welcome to the world, little girl, you think to yourself. It's smaller and bigger and harder and easier than you could ever imagine. It's a hell of a place.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

back and forth, forever.

These days I work in the same neighbourhood I went to highschool in. It's a bit of a mindfuck, albeit a pleasant one. I love the feeling of bumping up against my past all the time, I really do. Walking streets I used to know, taking shortcuts and remembering classes missed, fears realized, hearts broken. I'm not one of those people who has a particular nostalgia for highschool itself (the opposite is true, in fact), but I sure do look back fondly on the emotional education I got during those years.

The neighbourhood I work in is also close to Hamilton's only university. There are student houses everywhere, couches on porches, pickup trucks full of beer parked nearly perpendicular across ill-paved driveways. It gives the streets a pleasantly anarchic feeling that I find comforting. Yesterday things were even more ridiculous and messy than usual--April 30th, move-out day. As I walked around on my lunch break, I saw countless U-Hauls, decimated Ikea shelves, frustrated mothers and methodical fathers, young adults hauling armloads of clothes and pillows down rickety front steps. I heard in their voices that particular mix of relief at the end of another school year, and resignation to the fact that they would be spending the next four months in a childhood bedroom, suddenly accountable again after a year of total independence. Those are strange times, liminal times. Times between times, when you're not really sure who or where you are. Are you a student, mature and thoughtful and On Your Way Somewhere, or are you a daughter, dependent and uncertain and skulking back home? You don't really know, not when you're filling a borrowed truck with all your worldly goods, saying goodbye to the best people you've ever met.

Watching it all unfold, I couldn't help but think back to the many move-homes I've known. The one that came to mind immediately was the very first, in May, 2000. I had spent a transformative, sketchy, unforgettable year living at St. Hilda's College, surrounded by amazing women and annoying girls (and some who were both at the same time), across the street from the boys' residence, where we'd go for meals and beers and general insanity. A few weeks before the end of term I'd started dating a boy who felt different than the others. We liked all the same bands. We read all the same books. For weeks before we even kissed we'd stay up nearly all night talking about everything and nothing. Sometimes he'd call me on the phone and we'd talk that way for hours, even though he lived right across the street. I was falling in love with him, just as I'd fallen in love with the friends I'd made and the life I'd somehow forged for myself. I did not want to go. The prospect of leaving him, leaving my friends, leaving the tiny basement room that was now my home, terrified me. I was heading back to my real home, a place so unfamiliar to me now that it might as well have been Siberia.

One quiet Friday night my dad drove in to haul home my last load. The boy I couldn't get enough of had left for his parents' house Oshawa earlier that day, and already I felt like I was missing a limb. Before he left I thought about telling him how deep my feelings for him went, but I couldn't get the words out. The uncertainty hung between us as he walked away, hovered around me as I finished packing up my room before Dad got there. I remember those last few minutes, bringing the final boxes upstairs, cramming them into the back of the car, and then just standing there crying. A handful of the girls with whom I'd shared the last eight months were still around, and we all hugged and bawled like a bunch of tweens leaving summer camp. The air was warm and the sun was setting. My dad waited patiently in the driver's seat as I sloppily bid farewell to the best year of my life. As we drove back to Hamilton, further from my Toronto life, further from my eastbound love, I sunk back into the passenger side, exhausted. Everything that mattered felt so far away. In hindsight, it was the end of the beginning.

Of course I didn't know it yet, but that absence would make the heart grow fonder. I'd spend that summer working at the library. Nearly every night I'd run off to one place or another, often ending up in one of the same parks I'd spent my highschool years running off to. I wasn't looking for trouble the way I had been when I was younger, just a soft place to land. Every weekend I'd find myself either getting on a train or meeting one, following the path to my secret heart. Each time we'd see each other we'd get closer; each time we said goodbye it would get harder. Every train ride away from him made me feel like I was living that last day in front of St. Hilda's over again, dying another death, letting another great and wonderful thing come to an end. Come September we'd land back in each other's arms and vow to stay there for the rest of our lives. It would be exhilarating and terrifying and I would feel more alive and more secure than I'd ever thought possible.

That part wouldn't last either. I guess the point is, nothing does. Like it or not, we're bound to spend much of our lives in these liminal states, between things, between stops, between homes and great loves and times both hard and good. The silver lining, I think, is that eventually you get it. Eventually you see the changes coming, see that they're part of something bigger than you, know that you are strong enough to handle them. Eventually you make yourself your own anchor, and just hold on.

Monday, April 15, 2013

grow up and blow away.

Lately I've been getting the sense that I'm not as much of an adult as I probably ought to be. For a world-weary girl who has been called mature for her age since she was ten, this is an extremely unusual way to feel. It's not necessarily a bad thing, just a foreign one. And it's probably better than the alternative--that is, feeling burdened and close to breaking under the weight of grown-up responsibility. Which isn't to say I don't sometimes get a wave of that, but it passes.

Part of it's a product of living alone. When you live alone, especially in a house (be it ever so humble), you've got a lot of space to rattle around in. I feel perpetually as though my parents are away for the weekend and hot DIGGETY, I get to eat popcorn for dinner and turn up the stereo and invite a boy over later on. Ah, sweet freedom. Sometimes I drive home from work feeling palpably excited about just hanging around the house on my own terms. This only gets worse as gardening season approaches and all I want to do is plant myself in the backyard and listen to leaves growing. Okay then, that’s ONE thing that’s changed--back when my parents used to go away and leave me in charge, I’d routinely kill something in the garden, or else refuse to clean out the koi pond on account of my crippling fear that one of the goldfish would touch my hand. Maybe I’ve grown up more than I thought. Although I still wouldn’t put my fingers in a fish pond for love or money.

Another part of it's the fundamental conflict at the root of where my life is these days. The thing about being single and in your thirties is that you've got the confidence and self-assuredness that comes with supporting yourself through thick and thin. It's exhausting, to be sure, but god DAMN if it isn't empowering, too. Running parallel to that confidence, though, is the creeping fear that you've somehow missed some crucial boat. It's a daily battle, I find, reminding yourself that you've done the right thing. Of course it's the right thing, because it's the thing you chose, the thing you made happen, your steps on the road. Sometimes it feels like they're steps backward. Don't forget to tell yourself they're not. It's never a bad thing to hold onto autonomy, to hold onto carelessness, to hold onto naive optimism.

There will still be moments of doubt, of course. So how to cope? By leaning into it, I guess. On a lunch break from work I put on rubber boots and a wooly hat I've owned since highschool, walk around the same neighbourhood I walked around when I was skipping classes fifteen or so years ago. I put my headphones on and lose myself in the same old songs (mostly the same old songs, anyway--there's always room in my heart for a new jam). There's something comforting about just putting one foot in front of the other, and listening, and letting go. All you have to do is keep walking. The ground will hold you up, the melody will pull you along. This part's easy.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Marching forth.

The winter flies past in a frozen heartbeat. It seems like you don't write anymore. Your evenings are filled with other things; things that seem inconsequential in isolation but together add up to form the bulk of your life. Going to yoga, talking to boys on the phone, getting halfway through the books you've been meaning to read and then abandoning them in favour of the shortest articles in the Atlantic Monthly and a Nora Ephron collection you've re-read a million times. Better than nothing, you figure.

As usual, spring fever hits early. Sadly, it manifests itself as a literal fever as well, and you spend ten days holed up in your living room, watching high quality television shows interspersed with season six of the Simpsons (arguably the finest season, or at least the one from which you've memorized the most lines), coughing until your lungs fall out, sleeping in long spurts. February's always the hardest month of the year. And somehow you survive it by spending the last half of it completely incapacitated. Not a bad plan, in hindsight.

And now it's March, that month of fickle weather and existential ambivalence. (Yes, yes, all months have that quality to you; no one's arguing with you on that one. We can come back to it later.) The clocks spring forward and you want your hour back. You can tell you're on the mend when you stop sleeping again--insomnia's almost a welcome friend at this point. There's this boy that you like and he's been writing these tiny quasi-memoir-y reviews of songs from the 90s and each one makes you cringe and grin as you learn more about him and think back on your own strange life and uncover more and more parallels between his road and yours. One night while you're talking to him on the phone you wander down to the basement and drag up an old box of your highschool mixtapes. I thought I'd lost these, you muse, thinking to yourself that sometimes things don't reveal themselves till you're really ready for them. (In some other universe this thought applies to something with much more gravitas than a box of mixtapes. That universe is not the one you're meant to inhabit.) You spend a few days listening to them, falling down the rabbit hole. Once more you feel the palpable uncertainty and strange exhilaration of your youth. You remember particular nights and particular roads, hands held and boys kissed and friends departed. There's a story in here, you think to yourself. One story, at least.

There's a lot you could write about, but you don't. Not yet. Usually when you're not writing it's because you're too far inside your own head to find a way out, but this time it feels different. This time it feels like, for the first time in a long time, you're all the way out, opened up and awake and tentatively ready. For what, you're not quite sure. There's a story out here, of that much you are certain. You just have to live through it first.

Friday, February 8, 2013

snow days.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.

--Robert Frost

On this grey and quiet day, I'm thinking back to other snow days I have known.

January, 1999.

This was the year the mayor of Toronto frantically called in the army. Just down the road, we Hamiltonians kept calm and carried on. We had something like three snow days in a row that winter; it just kept on tumbling out of the sky all week. Friday was the third day, I think. It was only a couple of weeks before my final round of final exams. I was finishing highschool a semester early, theoretically to EXPLORE and GROW but realistically to sleep late and slack off and drive around aimlessly with my boyfriend. (For the record, I regret nothing.) I spent those couple of days hunkered down in my bedroom, studying. For all my slackerish posturing, I was fundamentally a do-gooder kid. I liked school, and I liked writing papers, and I liked doing well. I felt excited and somewhat existential about finishing highschool, and I took advantage of the extra study time with academic enthusiasm and mild melancholy. I'd wander down to the kitchen every couple of hours, sit at the island with my brother and my mom, then wander back up to piles of books and notes and a Joni Mitchell record on my recently inherited turntable. I have always been a top-drawer hunkerer.

By Friday night I was ready for a change of scene. My boyfriend was playing a concert that night--he was a drummer and percussionist in the city-wide youth orchestra, and every year the Hamilton Philharmonic would invite someone from each section to play in one of their performances. That January evening it was his turn. By some strange miracle the concert hadn't been cancelled and so I met his mom downtown in front of Hamilton Place and we sat together. I don't remember what pieces they played, but I remember where I was sitting--Orchestra level, stage left--because it was the same section I'd sat in with my parents through a million Sunday Symphony concerts. I remember watching him on that stage, a stage I'd played and sung on many times in choir concerts and mass string orchestra versions of the William Tell Overture. I felt proud of him and also personally relieved, for once a member of the audience instead of a part of the performance.

After the concert, his mom dropped us off at a friend's place in Westdale. Because of the snow and the treacherous roads and also, probably, the fact that we were the teenage equivalent of an old married couple, I was allowed to stay over at his house that night. Later on we walked home over the King Street bridge, down Dundurn to York and on to Inchbury. It was so quiet and still. We held hands and shuffled along and leaned into one another as we'd been leaning for the last two years. It's a good feeling, to feel so familiar with a person, to walk silently down streets you know well, to leave a trail of footprints behind you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

music to like boys to, volume 2: old days, new days.

In the old days, here's how it went. Boy meets girl. Boy has a bit of a thing for girl. Boy and girl tell each other all their best anecdotes and flirt shyly with each other across cafeteria tables and library study booths. Boy makes girl mix tape/CD. Girl listens to mix while lying on dorm room carpet or living room throw rug. Girl swoons quietly and asks boy if he wants to come over later. Boy says yes. Girl convinces herself that she can play it cool, oh yeah, for sure.

These are the new days. Here's how it goes. Girl sends boy message online. Boy responds. Boy and girl tell each other all their best anecdotes and flirt shyly across invisible fibre-optic networks. Boy moves out of province. Girl gets a little bummed out. Boy and girl spend an inordinate amount of time talking online and on the phone, forcing girl to confront her crippling fear of telephone conversations. As it turns out, it's not all that bad. Boy makes girl a playlist and uploads it online. Girl cannot for the life of her figure out how the hell to get playlist link to open. Boy calls girl. Girl and boy spend about ten minutes doing quasi-tech support, come up empty handed, and then talk about their respective prom nights and troublemaking pasts for two and a half hours. Girl goes to work the next morning extremely fatigued.

The next day, boy messages girl and apologizes for keeping her up half the night. Girl demurs. Boy vainly attempts, yet again, to help girl download the damned mix. Boy downloads Dropbox. Girl sifts through a zillion emails trying to locate her Dropbox account information. Girl manages to download playlist but can't upload it to her media player. Boy calls girl before bed and gently suggests she might need to upgrade her operating system. Girl and boy quote the Simpsons to one another for awhile. Boy tells girl he really wishes he'd asked her out before he left Ontario. Girl listens to playlist on an iPad she doesn't entirely know how to use. Girl swoons quietly and then moonily prices out eastbound flights. Girl doesn't even bother trying to play it cool, as it has never gotten her anywhere particularly interesting anyway.

A lot of things change, but the parts that really matter stay pretty much the same.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

music to like boys to, volume 1.

You meet on the internet. It's 2006, and online dating hasn't quite reached its forthcoming ubiquity; it's still weird to admit that you do it at all. Over the summer you tried it out--you're in a new city, newly on your own for the first time in years, nearly recovered from an epic breakup. For the most part, the internet is a horrifying wasteland. You come up empty-handed but for a few great war stories of dudes who tell you they're falling in love with you on the second date, dudes who bring inflatable butt pillows to the restaurant, dudes who reveal their frontal lobe damage and twelve-step program attendance with an offhandedness that you find alarming. You spend some time feeling wildly sorry for yourself and drop out for a few months, then drop back in in November. It's late autumn in Ottawa and the days are short. You start to get the feeling that you'd be okay with something more, that something more might be out there.

You send him a message because he says in his profile that he's looking for a girl with good taste in music. Well hell, you think to yourself, I've got this one on lock.  He writes back soon afterward and you engage in the deceptively intimate exchange that comes from knowing someone only through words on a screen. He wants to meet, and you do too. You give him your real email instead of the dummy one you reserve for other suitors. You are cautiously optimistic.

Your first date is at a bar in the Market with the best jukebox and burgers in town. He's nervous, you can tell. He's sweet and shy and funny and you are charmed. You have a car, but you walked downtown in case you drank too much (you're not one for following the First Date Sobriety Rules). After dinner and a few tipsy pints the two of you walk slowly up to Rideau Street, talking about comic books and Thrush Hermit. Your shoulders brush against each other's in that tentative and  lovely way that is both purposeful and accidental. As each bus goes by you think to yourself, oh please, don't let this one be mine. Just a few more minutes.

You go out again a few days later, for brunch at your favourite pub on Elgin Street. You drink too much coffee and he offers to walk you home, and of course you say yes, because what else is there to say.  The two of you walk up Elgin and cut past the canal and over to First Avenue, climb the stairs up to your attic apartment, sit down on the couch, and kiss. It is the warmest you've felt in a long while. He has a tattoo of the X Men symbol on his shoulder. It's the middle of the afternoon. You feel a little dizzy. Later on he goes home and your best friend picks you up, and you drive to a party together and you tell her, I think this is something. Sure, she replies, having heard that song before.

A few days later you meet up with him again. He's made you a mix CD, and you're thrilled to discover that you love everything on it. Along with the mix is a list of the songs he picked, and the reasons why. Oh, my heart, you think to yourself. There's an obscure Plaskett song on there, an Interpol track you've never heard before along with the story of the time he saw them in New York City. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Folk Implosion, and oh my lord your favourite Dears song. Get out of town, you think to yourself. This is too good.

It is, and it isn't. The two of you will be inseparable for awhile. When you sleep over at his place he'll sometimes walk you home in the morning, snow falling from steely skies. He'll tell you he loves you and you'll echo his words as you've longed to for weeks. Then you will start to feel trapped and bored and nervous. Maybe a deep and silent part of you already knows all this is coming, as you lie there on the floor in the early days, listening to a Blur song you haven't heard in years. Maybe you're not ready to admit it. Not yet. 

Six months or so down the road you'll be the one who ends it, and as you do that same deep part of you will know it's a mistake.  You're still wounded from your last broken heart, though, and you tell yourself it's easier to do the breaking this time, rather than just wait around for him to shatter you. These are the stories we tell ourselves, over and over again.

Years later you'll still think of him in that fond, wistful way that is so tritely typical of all lost loves, as the one that got away, or maybe just the one you pushed away. You'll hold onto that CD for a long time. When you buy a new car you'll move it over from one glove box to another. You'll still listen to it every once in awhile, because you can't help but wonder. And really, regardless of all that mess, it's a really goddamned good mix.

Friday, January 4, 2013

winter break mix tape.

Given my previously explained love of the mixtape, I'm trying something new on the blog this year, in the form of occasional mixes for particular moments. Eventually I'm hoping to become tech savvy enough to create an actual downloadable file on some sort of a computer and post it here (I am told that such a thing can be done! I shouldn't have broken up with that DJ I dated last spring before he showed me how! Ah, regret), but for now, you're just going to have to live with a Youtube playlist.

Anyway, this first installment is music for a winter vacation. This year, for the first time since probably grad school, I had a period of time that actually resembled a Christmas break. Sure, I worked a day or two here and there, but there were no snowbound car-treks down the 401, no frantic rushes back to an underheated apartment and an ornery cat. I had the chance to actually settle into the holidays, and I even had a couple of days following Christmas with nothing but time to hunker down and hole up. It made me both nostalgic for Christmas breaks in years past (surreptitious trips to the park in the snow to meet pals from highschool, late nights in the basement watching television, the glow of the Christmas tree in a darkened front window) and utterly thrilled with my Christmas Present. So in that vein, here's a mix of songs, old and new, to celebrate the end of a long and lingering holiday, to anticipate with both dread and relief the dark days of winter ahead, to burrow, and of course, to dance like a motherfucking fool in your living room.

Here's the breakdown:

1. Pearl Jam--Corduroy (everything has changed, absolutely nothing's changed.)
2. Joel Plaskett Emergency--You're Mine (because he's always on my list.)
3. Jack White--Missing Pieces
4. The Lumineers--Classy Girls (a song I hope to live by this year).
5. M. Ward--Lullabye and Exile (a song for late nights and moony thoughts.)
6. Django Django--Hail Bop (I like some harmonies with my indie dance pop.)
7. The Flying Burrito Brothers--Wild Horses (oh man, oh man.)
8. Sloan--Bells On (the song that has always and will always slay me dead.)
9. Vampire Weekend--Taxi Cab (a song for a snowy walk at dusk.)
10. New Radicals--You get What You Give (the guiltiest pleasure.)
11. Robyn--Dancing On My Own (my JAM for 2013, mark my words.)

You can also listen here.