Friday, August 12, 2016

Thoughts on Gord.

Like a lot of thirtysomething Canadian kids, Fully Completely was one of the first CDs I owned. I was 13 or so when I first listened to it. I thought Wheat Kings was the most beautiful song I'd ever heard. I kept listening to the Hip all through highschool, but somewhere in my early 20s, I developed some innate hipster superiority complex, eschewed anything sincere and patriotic, and kind of stopped following their music. Then one summer day, I got a letter from one of my best friends, who was out in Alberta planting trees for the summer. At the end of several pages of scrawl, she'd taken the time to write out one of Gord Downie's poems from Coke Machine Glow, because, she said, "I think you need to read this." I don't even remember which poem it was, but I remember that the words struck enough of a chord with me that I hunted down the companion album.

Falling in love with Gord's side projects was the start of my path back to Hip fandom. A few years after its release, as I nursed a profoundly broken heart from the confines of my Kitsilano apartment, Vancouver Divorce felt like it had been written just for me. That's the beauty of Gord's lyrics, that he could find some metaphor, turn some phrase, that somehow encompassed you, your country, your stories, your heart, all at once. I started listening to Hip records again, in spite of myself. I saw them, and Gord, live, when I could, which wasn't hard to swing, given that my best friend and her husband were the loveliest kind of obsessive fans. So obsessive, in fact, that when they finally decided what song they wanted me to sing for them as part of their wedding ceremony, they chose Every Irrelevance, a funny, moody, weird little ditty about the inconsequential moments that make up the sum of love. I wasn't sure I'd be able to translate Gord's essential strangeness into a version I could sing and play myself. I started by open-tuning my guitar, a trick I'd learned as an adolescent Joni Mitchell obsessive, and got to work arranging it. It worked out, somehow. I sat on the stage in a tiny country church as the bride's sister held up a copy of the lyrics for me, just in case, though I didn't end up needing them in front of me at all. "I can't believe you said Arse as part of our wedding ceremony," they kept telling me later. It became the stuff of legend, a chapter in our collective history.

Around that time I found myself living in Kingston, a town where serendipitous Hip sightings happen with delightful frequency. I went to see Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles at the Grand Theatre. Gord gave a shoutout to his parents, who, it turned out, were sitting right across the aisle from us. "Shit man, that's Kingston for you," my then-boyfriend whispered. I leaned into him as Gord serenaded the room and made incredible art with some magic combination of food colouring, fans, and shadow puppets on an overhead projector. It was the last good night we had together before a protracted breakup that festered over the next couple of months. I left Kingston shortly after that. I left it the way you leave a place you love too much, a place full of countless good memories that are overshadowed by one tremendously shitty one right toward the end. I'm glad I got to see Gord there before I left.

The autumn before last, my newish boyfriend told me he'd bought tickets to see the Fully Completely front to back tour that coming winter. He kept talking about it, dancing around it, till one night, sitting in front of his laptop, told me that he happened to have the seating chart up on his screen, and wouldn't you know, the seat next to his was still free. "Do you want to come with me?" he asked, and I said, "Well, yeah, of course I do." Later, we both admitted that the proposition had terrified us, just a little, because in asking, and answering, we were both acknowledging that secret (or not so secret) hope that we'd still be together that February. Isn't it funny, the things you want so much to happen, that you can't even bring yourself to say them out loud.

We went to that show, with his best friend and her partner, and when they got to Wheat Kings I leaned into him and thought back to the first time I heard it, the long line between then and now, the shows I'd been to while living in cities all over the province, the way your life ends up in a place you never could've imagined.

Tonight we're going to see the Hip again. That now-not-so-newish boyfriend and I are getting married next spring, and just last week he talked me out of including a sincere lyric from Ahead By A Century on our invitation, which is pretty rich given how my cynical post-adolescent heart once railed against such frivolity. This will be his zillionth time seeing them. It will be maybe my fourth, not counting the solo Gord shows peppered here and there. I hope it isn't the last time, but it might be. I like the idea that everyone in that audience tonight has a rambling story about their Tragically Hip fandom, just like this one. I like the idea that we'll all be there together, falling in love and having our hearts broken open, all at once, one more time.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fortress of Solitude.

I wrote this one awhile ago, and am now working on an eventual part two, so here's part one, for clarity's sake.

It's a relief to find that relationship-related contentment has done little damage to my penchant for intense self-reflection.

August, 2015.

If you know me at all (and given the size of my readership I think it's safe to say you know me pretty well), you know how much I value the lone reed ethos. I spent the better part of the last ten years on my own in one way or another. Ten years ago I was still in Vancouver, and the love of my life (the previous five years of that life, anyway) had just broken my heart in a single telephone call from the Eastern time zone. That breakup sent me reeling for a long, long time. Putting myself together took awhile. I walked a weird and not totally unpleasant line between wearing my heart on my sleeve and building a wall around myself. I fell in and out of love several times over. I trampled and was trampled upon in nearly equal measure.

"Less martyr, more slut," my best friend advised me at one particularly sad-seeming point early on in my singlehood. I took it to heart, sometimes. Other times I wallowed in my solitude, letting the hardship of it all wash over me. It wasn't always easy, but I'm glad I did it. I learned to love being alone. I revelled in it, knowing that no matter what happened on whatever horrendous first date I was hurling myself into, I'd still get to go home to whatever wonderful, perfect hidey-hole I was currently living in (and my goodness, there have been some perfect hideouts). At the end of it all, to borrow a phrase from Sloane Crosley, you're not really single, not the way they might think, if you have yourself.

Living alone has always been my jam. I haven't had a roommate since I left Tara waving goodbye outside our Arbutus Street apartment in Vancouver in 2006. (And then there were the three ill-advised months living out of a garbage bag in Freya's guest room--"guest room" is a generous term here--in Hintonburg upon arrival in Ottawa, but that's another story.) I've treasured the time I've spent on my own, home alone, puttering around. I've gotten a lot done. I've planned yoga classes, planted gardens, baked cookies, drunk gallons of cheap wine with whoever wandered over. For a a lovely couple of years my best friend Kat was living back at home in Dundas, which turned my house into the de facto hangaround joint. Those years made me feel like I was back in highschool, my parents perpetually away for the weekend. We solved a lot of each other's problems during those evenings. We didn't need anyone else. The difference between Needing and Wanting was a big one, though. It was sometimes a scary thing, when what you want just doesn't seem to exist in anyone. It's a good thing we became so skilled at the long game.

I spent my solitary years treating dating as my hobby, and it was actually a lot of fun, even when it was absolutely fucking terrible. For every apalling first date I went on, I fell in love somewhere else, ten times over. I was always looking for love, although I didn't really expect that I'd end up at the same end point that most people seemed to. I never imagined myself with another person. Years ago I remember reading an article about Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter and their arrangement, which involved separate houses connected by some kind of a tunnel. Ah, I thought, how sensible. (It's worth noting that their relationship is now over.) My number one priority in my twenties and the early part of my thirties, was preserving my personal autonomy. Boys and men came and went. Some lasted longer than others. I never really let any of them in, though. I also maintained a comically ridiculous level of geographical distance between myself and whoever I was dating, falling in love with back road-dwelling hermits and boys in other provinces. I know, I know, I'd always say. Because I DID know. I didn't want to lose myself in a relationship again, or risk making a sacrifice for another person again. How was I to know that once I found someone who offered to make that sacrifice first, for me, WITH me, that suddenly, amazingly, letting someone in would be the only thing that made sense.

So I've spent the past few weeks getting my house ready for someone else. This has involved throwing out a lot of floral printed things, and scaling back my collection of pictures of cats dressed up in human clothing, and generally mourning the end of my lone reed days, stumbling over my past with every box I walk out to the curb. In Yes, Please, Amy Poehler tells a story about how she isn't afraid of getting older because she's learned the secret to time travel: She hides past treasures and reminders of hoped-for futures in purses and on high shelves to discover at intervals. A movie ticket stub, a bathing suit bought on a dark, difficult day for a trip next summer. And when she rediscovers these objects, she is transported forward and backward in her own life, existing simultaneously in multiple moments. You can imagine how thrilling I found this, as a professional nostalgist.

Getting ready for this perfect clever bearded weirdo to move into the house I've lived in all by myself for the past few years feels a lot like time traveling. In the process of organizing and purging and shuffling things around, I've stumbled across so many moments from along the long line of my life. An invitation to my 14th birthday party, typed on an ancient Mac and printed on neon pink paper. A photo from the Spectator of my dad playing the guitar on the roof of Jackson Square in 1981. The autographed program from the original Pantages production of Phantom Of The Opera, a gift from my much-beloved piano teacher, who was in the orchestra. I've started hiding bits of my future around in drawers and baskets, pieces I'm not ready to talk about yet, reminders of incredible things that hopefully lie ahead for us, beginnings of a story that belongs to two people instead of one. This is the first time I've ever helped clear out a boy's apartment and genuinely enjoyed doing so. This won't be the last time we pack and unpack and upend ourselves. It's terrifying, and it's wonderful, and it's life.