Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Best Records of 2014: A Narrative Analysis

Unlike last year, when I basically had the collected works of the National on repeat, I actually listened to some current music in 2014! Imagine that. Here are a few newish albums I really liked, in no particular order.

Bahamas--Bahamas Is Afie

For a brief period in the middle of the year I was some kind of weird magnet for Bahamas. Everytime I turned on the radio, no matter what station (full disclosure, I only listen to three stations: CBC 1, CBC 2, and Indie88 when I feel SAUCY), there he was, charming the pants off me with that sweet sweet falsetto. (Side note that didn't get mentioned in last year's list because of my utterly destroyed mental state at the end of 2013: one of my top musical moments of THAT year was Bahamas' encore cover of Hey-Ya by Outkast at Wolfe Island Music Festival. Its awesomeness was made all the better by my best friend's presence in the audience, because as she and everyone around us already knows, what Andre 3000 is REALLY singing is Frey-Ya.)


Speaking of Wolfe Island Music Festival, these guys were such a standout at this year's show. Apparently my musical sweet spot is a distant Rankin Family cousin with bleached blonde hair and jangly guitars and a vague connection to Charlottetown--GO FIGURE.

Bry Webb--Free Will

And speaking of Wolfe Island AGAIN, Bry Webb and his band were so good they hurt my feelings. When they closed their set with a cover of China Cat Sunflower by the Grateful Dead and Bry called the audience a bunch of hippies (in a KIND way) and commanded us to dance, I died of happiness. There are those who might say I am an easy mark.

Hamilton Leithauser--Black Hours

Hamilton's old band The Walkmen have saved my life a few hundred times over the years. This solo record is such a fucking treat. It has a bit of a Hungover Vegas Showman vibe and is rife with gorgeous tributes to relationships gone awry. I think it was my brother who said that Hamilton Leithauser is the kind of guy who you can imagine just going down with the ship, leaving it all on the floor, screaming his last breath. Yeah, I get that. I really get that.

The New Pornographers--Brill Bruisers

Perfection as usual. No further comment.

Shad--Flying Colours

I threw those last couple in just to throw you off the chase, but here is ANOTHER amazing album by ANOTHER Wolfe Island Music Festival alumnus (Frontenac County, I'm forever your girl). Shad is amazing and he raps about Jack Donaghy and being a feminist ally and when we saw him live Freya's kids threw their hands up in the air immediately and sincerely when he instructed them to and it was adorable as hell and that's pretty much all you need to know about that.

Beck--Morning Phase

Beck is one of those artists whom I'll pretty much always enjoy. I especially dug this record because it reminded me of Sea Change, which came out in like 2002 and at the time made me want to open up a vein in the best way (there's a story there for another day, I promise). Morning Phase was also given to me, on vinyl, by a boy, which, as you can probably guess is a fairly ultimate Flirting With Caitlin situation. The boy turned out to be the kind of disappointing dud who ruins your birthday weekend and breaks up with you twice, but we had a good run, I guess? ANYWAY.


I know this album technically came out last year but if you hung out with me AT ALL in 2014 then you are uncomfortably aware of its impact on my world, not to mention my FEMINISM and also my pumpkin carving choices.

It's been a hell of a year.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

August, unencumbered.

I wrote this in August, but forgot about it till this chilly October Sunday morning. It's funny to look back on it now, especially since only a few months on,for the first time in a long time, I'm so blissfully attached to someone (just one someone, oh how lovely, how novel, how perfect) else. But nevertheless, I don't think I've lost my weird lone wolf streak just yet, and I will always sing the praises of strong and independent women, so here it is.


So, I'm on vacation this week, and I've been doing an embarrassingly shitty job of unplugging from technology for the duration, something I swore I'd do. I informally (secretly) polled two of the men in my life on this one, to see what their reactions would be.

The one who is 30 years old said that the prospect of unplugging seemed so absurd as to be a joke. "My life's online," he said. "Well," I replied, "my friends told me they missed me on Facebook when I was gone, so."

The one who is 40 smiled supportively, again, and told me that social media is a waste pit, again, and was utterly thrilled to hear that I had accidentally booked us a campsite without an electrical outlet for next week. "I'll just turn my phone off," he said, nonchalantly. "Where did you come from," I replied.

So you see what I'm dealing with here.

But no matter, because on Saturday I up and left them all behind. I drove off to Grey County with no burdens on my shoulders. Just past a new detour through Eden Mills (2014 is the Summer of the Detour, and my eternal lifemate Kat's mom is the Detour Queen), I drove into a blinding thunderstorm, sheets of lightning and wild winds whipping around my poor little car. When the clouds finally parted I felt so badass and brave. I arrived at the sunny side of the lake just in time.

The next day Kat and I drove up to Red Bay, on Lake Huron. We've driven up there before, in varying stages of preparedness. It is a little bit like the Bermuda Triangle of the Bruce in that no matter what you do to get ready, no matter how many scrawled directions you shove into the console, you will always get lost.

"I so admire your willingness to go on a sketchy road trip," I told Kat as we embarked down Irish Lake Road, thinking of my own sense of immortality following yesterday's thunderstorm in Eden Mills. "I recognize in you the same risk gene I see in myself."

"We don't do things in half measure," Kat replied.

This outing was not unlike all the others, armed though we were with maps and a drunk GPS system and an information phone that kept losing its signal. It wasn't a big deal, though. We passed the time eating cheese curds and discussing the perils of dating non-feminist men.

"We really are the first generation of women who've had a mostly socially accepted choice in whether or not to settle," she pointed out. "Men don't consider that the way we do. I mean, what choice did our mothers have? Wife or lonely academic, that was about it. Our mothers may have broken that mold, but a lot of their peers couldn't, or wouldn't."

I kept considering that all afternoon, as we arrived at Red Bay as one always does, just in time. I thought about it as we laid out our picnic, swung on a swing set, gossipped and smoked and swam like mermaids, out past the breaker in water that felt like the ocean. As we flipped somersaults and scoped out cute dudes in the water nearby and reminisced about elementary school gym class, as we felt ourselves so gloriously unencumbered and free. We have chosen this life, beaten our own trails. Each moment on the path to this afternoon on this beach was one we had decided on, consciously or unconsciously. We may have struggled with existential malaise at nearly every turn, but the fact remained that we COULD engage in that struggle, that while we might be lonely, we'd never be pariahs.

Could our mothers have stood here a generation ago? Maybe. I feel like our particular mothers were built of strong, resilient stock. I know they could have been brave and noble in complete independence too. They'd have been an anomaly, though, women whispered about. It's still this way, I think. Women without traditional partners scare other people. For better or worse, we still represent a rejection of a norm. People still speak to us with a sort of patronizing admiration. It's so amazing that you're so independent, they sometimes tell us. I don't think I could ever live like that, by myself.

Hell, I want to tell them. Most of the time I don't think I can do it either, and yet, here I stand. And besides, I'm not alone. I'm held up by a vast network of secret sisters, coupled and uncoupled, mothers to their own children or to other people's or to no one at all. I do just fine. And so would you, if you had to, or even just wanted to. I know you would.

I don't know if I'll ever be the mother of a daughter. It's okay, it really is. I'm a feckless surrogate auntie to so many lovely and amazing children that I know I'll be alright. But if I do have a daughter, I hope she will be brave in ridiculous situations, and pay attention to orienteering. I hope she will feel the same desire to keep swimming, out past the boats, past the pier, past the break line. I hope she will one day feel fearless.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy Birthday.

Today my best friend's oldest kid turned 6. This is alarming for numerous reasons, not least of which being that I remember the day he was born, and it really does feel like yesterday. A yesterday that found me two cities and several broken hearts away from where I woke up this morning, but yesterday nonetheless.

"I don't know how he could be this old, when clearly we are still the same age," I told her this morning.

"Speak for yourself," she replied.

He was born on a Monday.

In those days I was still living in Ottawa and running away to Frontenac County every weekend to stay with a man I loved in secret. That secret hung between us, and I knew on some level that he felt it too, and our relationship often felt like an eternal standoff to see which of us could hold out the longest.

I never said I was good at matters of the heart, but what I lack in sense I make up for in enthusiasm.

On my way out there that weekend I'd stopped in at my best friend's place for lunch. She shuffled around the house, massive and cranky and looming over all of us. She wasn't due to pop for another couple of weeks, and it seemed as though if it didn't happen soon, horrible pain would befall us all.

"You sure you don't want to just hang out for awhile?" she asked as I skulked off to my car.

"I better not," I replied. "He's waiting for me."

It had been a weird summer. As my best friend got more and more pregnant, I felt like we had less and less in common. I had no idea what was going to happen once that kid came into the world. I basically assumed I'd be losing the partner in crime I'd held close for so long. But I couldn't say that, not now, with her lumbering around in exhaustion, with me running off yet again to some characteristically ill-advised decision. Uncertainty at both ends of a long county highway.

Things changed that weekend, though. I love you, that strange hermit of a man told me, as I stood in the doorway on Sunday night, trying to decide whether to stay one more night or just drive home. Neither option seemed particularly stabilizing. I love you, he told me, and I cried, because that's what I always do. I love you, he told me, and I stayed.

The problem was that I could never stay for long.

I woke up the next morning at 5 AM, feeling the very specific anxiety that comes with knowing you have a 2 hour drive ahead of you, 2 hours of gridlocked distance to put between you and a man who has finally opened his heart, followed by a meeting you have to chair, followed by Christ only knows what other professional disasters. I listened to Ron Sexsmith on the drive, just to hit the heartaching panic right out of the park. I drove past the Ottawa sign on the highway and cried for the second time in 24 hours. I had no idea what I was doing.

When I got back home, I had about a half hour to spare before I had to be at the library. I checked my messages, and heard one from my best friend, from the night before.

"Hey dude," she said, sounding disturbingly tentative, "So I THINK I might be in labour. No worries though!" She spoke as though she were trying to convince herself, and not doing a very good job.

I called her house immediately, and her sister, another of my very best people, picked up the phone.

"Oh yeah, we're in full swing here, pal," she said. I could hear a horrifying scream in the background. "If you stay on the line, you might even hear this little guy get born."

"I'm late for a meeting," I said quickly, "Gotta go! Big hugs! Call me when he gets here!"

An hour later I got a text. He was here. He was okay. Everyone was okay. Our mutual best friend (there are a lot of Best Friends in my life) called me from her office in Toronto.

"I'm just going into a meeting," she said. "I didn't know what to do."

"Me neither," I replied, welling up again, predictably.

The rest of the day was a blur. After chairing the worst meeting of my life I hit the road once more and drove from Orleans to Almonte. Trust me when I tell you that this is a hellish drive. Those were the days when I still occasionally smoked cigarettes, the days when I also still smoked in my car. (Don't tell my mother.) As I crept through gridlock and puffed out the window, I felt so spun out I didn't even know where to direct my nerviness. I was heading to my best friend's house, one of the most familiar ports in a storm I'd ever known. Only this time, I had no idea what to expect when I got there.

I tore into the driveway and gingerly knocked on the door, not wanting to disturb any quiet. I needn't have worried. In the kitchen, sisters and grannies grampas and husbands bustled around, a massive dinner already in the works. My best friend sat on the couch, a tiny swaddled peanut in her arms. (Not so tiny, I'd soon learn, not so tiny at all.)

"Oh my GOD," I said, and sat down beside her. "How WAS it?"

"It was HORRIBLE," she said. Obviously all those feel-good hormones hadn't yet wiped the trauma of childbirth from her memory.

She handed him over to me. I held him, just hours old, so new, so untouched. Oh lord, I prayed silently, please let the second hand smoke on this filthy pashmina not hurt him in any way. And then I cried. Again.

"Rough weekend?" my best friend asked.

"Not just that, but yes," I replied. "But we don't need to talk about that right now."

"But we can," she said. "That doesn't change."

So we did. I unloaded, briefly, as I held her life against my chest. I stayed for dinner, surrounded by the love and disbelief that descends on a home that is suddenly one heart larger. I drove home after dark, listening to Dylan, somehow certain amidst uncertainty that it would all be fine. How could it not be? New lives and new hearts are born every day, every hour, every moment. There would be room enough in the world for all the aching, all the joy, all the fear and all the hope that we could possibly imagine.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Live through this, and all that.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Polar Vortex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It tastes like more," he told you.

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

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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

the Valentine Project, part 5.

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

February 14, 2005, Kitsilano, Vancouver, BC.

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

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

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

Friday, January 24, 2014


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

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

No one wins, really.

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

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

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