Tag Archives: nostalgia machine

The X-Files, As Told By Me

4 Sep

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Bush X – Lady Music III, 90s Edition

16 Mar

Because bushes. And X chromosomes. And 90s bands. Get it? No but DO YOU GET IT?

This is the third instalment of the women in music series that my friend Nathan and I are doing.

You can find part I here and part II here.

1. No Doubt – Just A Girl

Possibly every girl-of-a-certain-age’s first feminist anthem? Or at the very least, listening to this was perhaps the first time that many of us questioned society’s treatment of us, and the ways in which we saw ourselves. I mean, come on, these lyrics:

‘Cause I’m just a girl, little ‘ol me 
Don’t let me out of your sight 
I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite 
So don’t let me have any rights

SOMEHOW STILL RELEVANT NEARLY 20 YEARS LATER

2. Jale – Ali

From the days when Halifax was referred to as the Seattle of the east. Because of their music scene, not because they unleashed a chain of ubiquitous coffee shops on the world. Anyway, I had this Jale cd when I was fourteen and I thought it made me the coolest person ever because no one else in my school had ever heard of them. Yeah, I was a hipster before it was cool.

3. The Cranberries – Zombie

Everyone I went to school with thought this song was about the first world war (because of the reference to 1916 I guess?) but it turned out it was actually about Ireland’s Easter Rising. And then I made the mistake of asking my Irish grandfather about the Easter Rising and that ended about as well as you could imagine. So, thanks for that, Cranberries?

4. Hole – Olympia

This song taught me about the futility of trying to be an individual among a sea of people who are also trying to be individuals.

To wit:

When I went to school in Olympia
Everyone’ss the same
And so are you in Olympia
Everyone is the same
We look the same, we talk the same, yeah
We even fuck the same

Even non-conformists end up conforming to something.

Ah, the life lessons I have learned from Courtney Love.

5. The Cardigans – My Favourite Game

As a bitterly contrary teenager, I was determined not to like The Cardigans because they were popular, and I eschewed all things popular. I mean, they had a song – the song, really – on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. Leonardo DiCaprio was in that movie. Obviously I couldn’t like them.

But then, damn them, they won me over with their sweet pop sensibilities and adorable voices. And then I realized that cardigans were, like, my favourite item of clothing ever. And I even learned to love Leo. So. Looks like a win for everyone involved.

6. Jewel – Morning Song

Ah, the song that introduced a generation of girls to Anaïs Nin.

I wish I could explain to you the look on the librarian’s face as my fourteen year old self checked out House of Incest.

7. Juliana Hatfield – Ugly

DON’T TELL ME YOU NEVER CRIED YOURSELF TO SLEEP WHILE LISTENING TO THIS SONG.

YOU AND I BOTH KNOW THE TRUTH.

8. Sneaker Pimps – 6 Underground

This was the kind of band that 90s teenagers took enormous delight in, at least in part because when their parents asked who that sweet girl was that they were listening to, they could smugly answer, “The Sneaker Pimps.”

And then your parents would be like, “Excuse me, the sneaker whats?” you would be like, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME OR MY ART.”

The Sneaker Pimps. I mean, man. They don’t make band names like that anymore.

Their music was pretty great, too.

9. Garbage – Only Happy When It Rains

One of the great anthems of the depressed, disaffected youth.

Oh how my Prozac-popping teenage self loved these lyrics:

I’m only happy when it rains 
I feel good when things are going wrong 
I only listen to the sad, sad songs 
I’m only happy when it rains 

I only smile in the dark 
My only comfort is the night gone black 
I didn’t accidentally tell you that 
I’m only happy when it rains

I mean fuck yeah I only smiled in the dark! Fuckers.

10. The Breeders – Cannonball

I was ten when this song came out.

I believe it was the first time I’d ever heard of bongs and reggae.

Not to mention libertines.

Music is good for your vocabulary.

11. Lisa Loeb – Stay

I wish I could put every frigging song from Lisa Loeb’s Nine Stories on this list because goddamn I loved that stupid, shitty album. The lyrics were laughably terrible (at one point she sings, “your hair falls soft like animals,” and even my clueless 13 year old self knew that was embarrassingly bad), sonically she was pretty boring, but man did I ever love her. Part of it was that she was one of the first people to make Girls Who Wear Glasses cool and cute. And she loved cats! And was friends with Ethan Hawke! In New York City!! I mean, she was basically everything I wanted to be in life, except that I wanted to be able to write words that didn’t make pubescent girls cringe.

12. The Innocence Mission – Bright As Yellow

Is there a more quintessentially 90s movie than Empire Records? I mean, that is a rhetorical question because we all know that the answer is no. Empire Records is basically the entire decade summed up in a delightful 90 minute package about sticking it to the man and shaving your head. Not only that, but it introduced me to this delightful little song. I dare you to listen to it and not get even just a little bit teary-eyed with nostalgia. I MEAN COME ON REMEMBER WHEN THEY DANCED ON THE ROOF AT THE END? YOUR TWEEN SELF THOUGHT LIFE WAS GOING TO BE LIKE THAT. AND IT’S NOT. SO BOW DOWN AND WEEP.

13. Mazzy Star – Into Dust

Forget everything you think you know about this song. Forget about the terrible sex you had with your first boyfriend while it played on a loop. Forget about how your sixteen year old self put it on a mix cd she made after said boyfriend broke up with her and then listened to it until she couldn’t stand it anymore. Forget that it was used in that one episode of The O.C. where they go to Tijuana – coincidentally the episode where you realized Summer was adorable and hilarious and actually way too good for Seth Cohen. Forget every association you have with this song, close your eyes, and really listen to it as if you’re hearing it for the first song.

You guys, this song is basically perfect.

14. Indigo Girls – Romeo and Juliet

Hey remember when everyone told you that listening to the Indigo Girls would turn you into a lesbian? But then you did anyway, in secret, and then you had a sex dream about that one really hot blond girl in your biology class (who, by the way, is now a professional Marilyn Monroe impersonator) and you were pretty sure that it wasn’t because of the Indigo Girls but you could never actually be sure?

Anyway, here they are covering my favourite Dire Straits song which is just way too many things that I love all at once.

ALSO REMEMBER THAT SCENE IN EMPIRE RECORDS WHERE MARK DUSTS THE TOE OF THAT CUTE BALLERINA GIRL WHILE THIS SONG PLAYS? BOOM. NOW YOU’RE CRYING AGAIN BECAUSE ETHAN EMBRY WILL IN ALL LIKELIHOOD NEVER EVER DUST YOUR TOE.

15. Bikini Kill – I Like Fucking

Because I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe

16. Sleater-Kinney – Call the Doctor

Hands down the best song to shout along to when you are drunk and fucked up with your girlfriends. Because they DO want to socialize you and purify it and GODDAMN IT YOU ARE NOT GOING TO STAND FOR THAT SHIT.

I know they were kinda problematic and for sure not inclusive enough but fuck I miss the Riot Grrrl movement. RIOTS NOT DIETS.

17. Liz Phair – Fuck and Run

You will never be as cool as Liz Phair. Neither will I. It’s probably for the best if we all just accept that reality right now.

I remember listening to this song when I was what, 12? And thinking about the future day when I would be bad-ass enough to have one night stands and all that shit. Cut to ten years later where my first “one night stand” winds up being with the dude I will someday marry.

So.

18. Fiona Apple – Criminal

This is the song everyone loved to hate or, conversely, hated to love. It’s annoying as fuck but SO GODDAMN CATCHY.

Anyway, this song will probably now be in your head for the rest of forever, so you’re welcome I guess.

19. Tori Amos – Me and a Gun

Tori Amos was hands-down the most important musician for me during my formative years. I spent hours and hours and hours locked in my room blasting her music on my shitty old tape player, until my mother would tell me that no one wanted to hear my sad woman music anymore at which point I would sulkily plug in my headphones, lie down on my back and stare up at the fairies I’d attempted to paint on my venetian blinds.

Me and a Gun is one of the hardest fucking songs to listen to, but also one of the most important for me and, I suspect, quite a few other people. She is singing about her experience of being raped. She is singing this beautiful, acoustically stripped-down song about being raped after a show by a man who had been in the audience. She is singing about having a gun pointed at her and being forced to have sex. And her strength in this song is raw and empowering and beautiful. This is the song I want everyone who makes stupid Tori Amos jokes to listen to, because fuck man. This song. This song takes guts.

20. Natalie Merchant – My Skin

There was a time – like, most of my teenage years and my early twenties – when I truly thought that my body was this foul, ugly, untouchable thing. I was convinced that anyone who saw me with my clothes off would immediately lose their lunch. I hated everything about myself – my greasy skin, my crooked face, the way my stomach stuck out, the way I smelled, the hair that was all over my body, everything. Everything.

Whenever I would start dating someone, I would think that I’d somehow tricked them into it, or that they had incredibly low self-esteem or something. And I would spend the entire relationship waiting for them to figure out how disgusting I actually was. The first time anyone ever went down on me I tensed up and started crying because I felt so badly about my body. The poor guy (also a virgin) had no fucking clue what he’d done wrong, and I didn’t have the vocabulary or bravery to explain it to him. AWKWARD. Shortly after that he broke up with me, saying that things are changed. I was sure it was because my vagina was so repellent that he never wanted to be within a ten foot radius of it ever again. Man, being young is the fucking worst. Needless to say, being in my thirties and being comfortable in my skin and with my sexuality is pretty fucking rad and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Anyway. I basically I thought this song was about me.

21. Sixpence None The Richer – Kiss Me

This is, like, every smart, sentimental, Tennyson-reading teenager’s dream song. If Anne Shirley had been alive in the 90s and in a cute indie band, this is the song she would have written (except then the line would have been, “you wear those shoes I will wear that puff-sleeved dress”). This song is so twee and adorable that you feel like you should hate it, but PSYCH YOU DON’T.

There is no explaining why you love this song; you just do.

22. Natalie Imbruglia – Torn

Ah, the music video that made me cut off all my hair and realize that a cute bob looks really fucking good on me.

23. Brandy & Monica – The Boy Is Mine

OK BUT WHOSE BOY WAS HE???

24. TLC – No Scrubs

A scrub is a guy who thinks he’s fly
And is also known as a buster
Always talkin’ about what he wants
And just sits on his broke ass

A scrub is basically a Nice Guy™ who wants to know why you are friendzoning him. Also he wears a fedora and loves Richard Dawkins. He is certain that he is somehow entitled to a relationship with you, based entirely on how awesome and special he is. As always, TLC are full of excellent advice: RUN, LADIES.

25. Bran Van 3000 – Drinking In LA

What the hell am I doing not drinking in LA at 31?

MY FRIEND SYREETA LIVES THERE AND I COULD BE DRINKING WITH HER RIGHT NOW.

26. Lauryn Hill – Doo-Wop (That Thing)

I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is one of the best, most important albums to come out in the 90s or maybe ever.

Fuck I miss Lauryn Hill, you guys.

27. Queen Latifah – Living Single theme song

Nathan insisted we include this song.

Maybe just don’t ask why.

28. Elastica – Waking Up

I was, like, a HUGE Blur fan when I was in my early teens, so I was sort of contractually obligated to like Elastica. Because, you know, Justine Frischmann and Damon Albarn were a thing.

HOW IS IT THAT I CAN STILL REMEMBER THIS NEARLY TWENTY YEARS LATER BUT I CAN’T REMEMBER TO TURN OFF THE GODDAMN STOVE SOME DAYS.

29. Salt-N-Pepa – Shoop and Push It

When discussing which Salt-N-Pepa song to include, this conversation happened:

Me: which salt n pepa song?

Nathan: Are you fucking kidding me?

Me: … no?

Nathan: Shoop!

Nathan: Or Push It.

Nathan: Fuck!

Nathan: No, Shoop.

Nathan: …

Nathan: …

Nathan: I think.

Me: SEE, IT’S HARD

Nathan: Well it is definitely between those two.

Nathan: I’m asking my sister her opinion.

Then Nathan’s sister went rogue and said that Let’s Talk About Sex was the best Salt-N-Pepa song and we were like DAMN IT SHE’S RIGHT, TOO.
So we give you all three songs, because we just couldn’t choose:

 

 

30. Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2U

OH YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING TO MAKE IT THROUGH THIS LIST WITHOUT HAVING TO LISTEN TO THIS SONG, DID YOU?

WELL GAZE UPON SINEAD’S GLORIOUS FACE AND WEEP BECAUSE MOTHERFUCKER HERE IT IS

Nostalgia Machine: Re-watching The X-Files

28 Oct

I’ve been re-watching The X-Files since I’ve been sick, and it’s weirdly been more emotional than I thought it would be. I mean, yes, I snarkily posted this mini-review on Facebook:

So the x-files is basically a show set in the far distant past, back when they didn’t have cell phones or digital cameras. It centres around a 15 year old boy with daddy issues named Fox Mulder. He sulks around and breaks rules and believes in every ridiculous thing ever and uses his Feelings and Troubled Past to justify everything he does. He has a lot of Feelings, by the way. The show also features an actual bonafide adult named Dana Scully who is literally the most patient, tolerant person on the planet and also understands how things like Science and Logic work.

And I still stand by all of that.

But, still.

Emotions.

I was eleven years old when The X-Files first came on the air.

I looked something like this:

Anne youth photo0018

I was in that weird place between childhood and puberty; I had the beginnings of breasts, but no period yet. I liked boys, but had no idea what to do about that fact. I read grownup books, but still secretly played pretend. The siege of my childhood had begun, and I wasn’t yet sure whether to welcome the invading army or fight at all costs.

As if there was even a fight to be had.

I don’t know why I started watching The X-Files – I think I overheard someone talking about it at school, or maybe it was because my Aunt Carolyn, the arbiter of all things cool, was a fan. I’m certain that most of the appeal was because the show seemed so forbidden in our house. My mother has the lowest threshold for fear when it comes to scary movies; even Jumanji was too much for her to stomach. She saw one episode of The X-Files, said that it was disgusting and grotesque, and swore that she would never watch it again.

So of course I had to find a way to see it.

I would tape it off the television, onto cassettes labelled Star Trek or Road to Avonlea. Even though we only had one VCR in our house, this wasn’t so hard because the X-Files aired at 9 pm on Friday nights, at which time my parents were either bribing, cajoling or threatening my sister Catherine to go to bed, or else they were holed up in their own bedroom, trying to pretend for an hour or two that they had no children. If they happened to be in the living room when the VCR started clicking and whirring, I would make up a lie about taping some old movie musical off CBC and then change the subject. Somehow, I never got caught.

I would set my alarm for one in the morning, and when it went off, I would creep downstairs and settle myself into a little nest of blankets and pillows on the couch. I didn’t dare turn any lights on, so the house was completely dark. I would sit there in rapt attention, drinking in every tiny detail of Mulder and Scully’s weekly adventures, even the stuff that I didn’t understand. Especially the stuff that I didn’t understand. Afterwards, I would rewind the cassette to the beginning and tape an hour of test patterns or infomercials, so that no one would know what I had been up to.

I was a cautious kid by nature; nothing that I’d done up until that point had ever felt so daring.

The X-Files gave me the same queasily excited feeling that I got from looking through the Victorian medical dictionary we had in the basement. I didn’t exactly enjoy poring over highly detailed drawings of deformed fetuses or diseased genitals, but I couldn’t seem to look away. Those crumbling onionskin pages had some sort of pull on me that I couldn’t quite explain. And as much as aliens and deadly parasites and ageless dudes who wake from their hibernation every thirty years in order to gruesomely murder people and eat their livers terrified me – and let’s be clear here, as an eleven year old, The X-Files fucking terrified me – I couldn’t look away. Part of it was that I was sort of daring myself to be cooler, less wussy than I was, but part of it was that I was genuinely, horrifyingly fascinated.

It wasn’t long before that horrified fascination somehow turned into love. I loved Mulder, whose deadpan goofiness fit perfectly with his desperate need to believe that there was something, anything out there. I loved Scully, with her take-no-bullshit attitude and her scientific smarts. I loved Skinner, and Deep Throat, and the Cigarette Smoking Man. I loved their stupid basement office with its stupid UFO poster. I loved all of it.

I guess I sort of grew up with The X-Files. That show might have been the first inclination that I had that the government didn’t always have the good of the people in mind. I learned about conspiracy theories, and unethical experiments carried out with the full knowledge of legislative officials, and exactly what happens to the people who go against the official party line. Most of all, I learned to trust no one, and if there’s ever been a more fitting slogan for being a teenager, I haven’t heard it yet.

The X-Files also acted as a touchstone between my father and I after he left. He started watching the show too, and during our weekly phone calls we would compare notes on the latest episode. My father had always had strange nightmares about being abducted by little grey men, so aliens were already a bit of a family joke; once my father and I were both watching The X-Files, that joke amplified in and echoed across the distance, both literal and figurative, between us. We would buy each other alien and spaceship-themed presents at Christmas and on birthdays, and those became a sort of code between us, a code that translated to mean, “I love you. I’m proud of you. No matter what.”

I kind of lost the thread of The X-Files plot towards the end of high school. The mytharc was too complicated, and anyway, I was too old to be watching the same babyish shows that I’d liked when I was eleven. I had new and more exciting ways of feeling daring, like drinking and kissing boys and smoking pot. I didn’t have time for Mulder and Scully anymore, in the same way that I didn’t have time for my family anymore. And then in the last season Mulder wasn’t even there, which, I mean, fuck that. Right?

I did watch the last episode of the show, though, which aired just a few months before I turned twenty. And when I say watch, what I really mean is cried through the entirety of. Because, fuck, man. The Lone Gunmen were dead. Mulder and Scully were finally together. And the siege of my childhood was definitely, without even a shadow of a doubt, over. The city was conquered, the population killed or enslaved, and the buildings razed.

I was a grownup, and The X-Files was gone.

But re-watching it? Re-watching brought me right back to that dark living room twenty years ago, the light from the screen flickering across my impossibly young face. It was like rewinding the tape to the beginning, back to the hard, bright cynical innocence of the early 90s, back to Scully’s boxy suits and Mulder’s enormous wire-framed glasses. It was falling asleep and dreaming something lovely, or else maybe like finally waking up. It was perfect nostalgia.

mulder20and20scully20conv2001

Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose

30 Jun

It’s been a crazy week, eh, internet? I mean, between Wendy Davis’ filibuster  and the American supreme court repealing DOMA, it’s been pretty exciting all up in here!

And it’s Pride in Toronto right now!

And tomorrow is Canada Day!

Meanwhile, I’m working all weekend, and have spent the last several days alternating between being screamed at by my toddler and struggling to find the motivation to finish my book, since my deadline is July 15th. I mean, in case you were wondering why I haven’t been posting much and also have maybe noticed how incredibly shitty I’ve become at replying to comments. Sorry guys, I kind of suck right now.

Basically my life write now - trying to finish my book while doing my best not to drown

Basically my life write now – trying to finish my book while doing my best not to drown

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about the book on here or not. Probably not. I’m pretty terrible at self-promotion, which is a problem, I guess, when you’re a young, unknown whippersnapper of a writer. Like, when people ask me what my book’s about, I just sort of mumble incoherently and then change the subject. Mind you, I’ve never actually published a book, so I can’t say this with complete certainty, but I’m pretty sure that that’s not how you get people interested in what you’re writing.

Anyway. This book. It’s going to be an e-book, published through Thought Catalog, and will be sold both on their website and on Amazon. The first draft is mostly done, which is kind of bad news, because that means that editing comes next, and editing my own work mostly makes me want to gouge my eyes out. I’m pretty excited about it, though. It even has a title – My Heart is an Autumn Garage. That’s a Salinger reference, specifically a reference to a line from Franny & Zooey, so right away you know that it’s going to be an awesome book.

So what’s this mystery book about? Welllll, it’s about the time that I was hospitalized for depression back in 2003, and all the crazy hijinks and hilarious misadventures that ensued! That is, if by crazy hijinks and hilarious misadventures I mean “possibly the worst, most frightening thing that has ever happened to me.”

Writing this book has been both a weirdly nostalgic experience and super anxiety-inducing. The former because even though the summer and fall of 2003 were a really fucking terrible time in my life, it was neat cracking open my old journals and reading all the weird little details about my life back then. And yeah, a lot of what I wrote was heartbroken and angry, but there were a few things that made me smile –  for example, a pros and cons list that I wrote of reasons why I should or should not kill myself (spoiler alert: I didn’t, even though there was only one item on the “should not” list). That list, by the way, was made with complete earnestness, and there really shouldn’t be anything funny about it, but somehow it feels pretty damn good to read it ten years after the fact and be able to laugh.

Writing this has also brought up a bunch of anxiety because, to be honest, I actually thought that I’d changed a lot since 2003. Like, I’d somehow become  an entirely different person or something. But, of course, even though my circumstances have altered since then, my actual core self is pretty damn similar. Reading those old journals reminded me that I still have all the same old insecurities and fears as ever, and sure, maybe I’m better at coping with them now, but my coping abilities feel fragile and feeble at best, and it seems like it wouldn’t take much to bring me right back to where I was.

And speaking of being right back where I was, that’s sort of what I’ve been doing while writing this book, isn’t it? I mean, I’ve been working really hard to get into the headspace I was in ten years ago, those good old days when Halifax seemed like a mean, grey trap and suicide felt like the only way out. By and large I’ve been pretty successful at recapturing those feelings (thanks Past Self for all your extremely detail-oriented journal entries – way to look out for Future Self!), and while I do think slipping back into how I felt and thought in those days will make the book much stronger and more immediate, it hasn’t exactly felt great for my present-day self. It’s hard not to read pages and pages of hopelessness, regret, and suicidal ideation without starting to think, hmmmm, maybe she has a point.

So that’s basically where I am these days. There’s been a lot of writing and self-reflection over the past few weeks, and a healthy dose of change, too. These have, in the long run, all been good things, I think, but they’ve also been kind of wearing on me, and I haven’t exactly been the most fun person to be around. I also feel that I never have enough hours in the day, although somehow I always magically have enough time to refresh Facebook obsessively or check my email fifty times, so I dunno. I’d better get my shit together soon, though, because it’s summer and I fucking love summer. First of all, it’s my birthday in a little over a month. Second of all, summer. And if you’re one of those assholes who hates summer and will spend the next two months complaining about how hot it is, well, you know where the door is.

In other news, I will be in Chicago at the end of July speaking at the BlogHer conference on the topic of “Mental Health in the Online Space.” I’ve never been to Chicago, so I am pretty stoked! I know all about how their hospitals work, though, based on my obsessive teenage watching of both ER and Chicago Hope.

Hey, Dr. Carter?

Call me, okay?

Also, my friend Audra started a blog called Enthusiasm Makes the Difference. I asked her if it was going to be a blog about blow jobs, because I feel like that is a scenario where enthusiasm really can mean the difference between a great blow job and just a so-so blow job, but she said that it was only going to be about oral sex sometimes. Anyway, she is a great writer and you should probably check her out!

Oh, and if you want to read some advice that I gave Sheila Heti about change and decision-making, you can check that out here.

In conclusion, I will leave you with my favourite scene from The Royal Tenenbaums, which I have been watching this week in the name of RESEARCH. Because the fact is that only ten days before I was planning on killing myself, Elliott Smith committed suicide by stabbing himself in the chest. And I can’t think of Elliott Smith without remembering the part in the Royal Tenenbaums when Luke Wilson’s character slashes his wrists while Smith’s Needle In The Hay plays on the soundtrack. And oh frig, you guys, this scene gets me every time. There’s just so much feeling, but it’s so quiet and lovely and happy-sad. Oh man.

May Day (M’Aidez)

3 May

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction in my time. Too much, probably. Especially during my formative years. As a kid I read a lot of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s books, the earliest of which are so very English and charming and achingly nostalgic that I spent far, far too much time daydreaming about what it would be like to live in Tudor London, wear a kirtle and spend my days working on a sampler.

It’s been a cold, grey, miserable spring so far but then yesterday, May Day, the weather suddenly smartened up. The trees have finally put forth quivering, fragile, little buds, so tiny and compact that it’s hard to believe that they’ll ever unfurl enough to provide any kind of shade. The magnolias are starting to open their pinky-purple blossoms, and the bluebells, crocuses and daffodils are everywhere.

All of this gives me a funny sort of heartache, like I’m missing out on something that I’ve never known, and never will know.

Oh, I know that it’s ridiculous, and I’m thirty, and when am I ever going to grow the hell up, but you guys? I wish that May Day was still a thing. I want to go out before dawn and bring in the May. I want to sing madrigals as the sun is coming up. I want maypoles and morris dancers and May Queens and all of that stupid shit. I want bonfires, and the moon, and the cold, starry sky. I mean, we don’t even get to have stars anymore. At least not in the city, anyway.

I guess what I really want is some kind of communal way to celebrate the coming of spring. I want to be able to mark the passage of the year, from the barrenness of winter through the promise of spring and the fullness of summer to the dead lands of autumn and then all the way back to winter again. I want some way of measuring my life other than stingy little increments of twenty four hours, each hour chopped up and neatly ticked out in precise little seconds. I’m so tired of days – Mondays, workdays, weekdays, holidays, day, days, days. They seem so cold, so clinical, so entirely devoid of meaning.

I taught a late class tonight, and as I walked home the air was warm and heavy with the scent of fresh earth and flowers. Through open windows I could hear soft laughter and the clink of dishes, sounds of happiness and comfort. The kids were all out tonight, smoking pot on park benches, their bored, drawling voices floating towards me on the breeze. Some of them were playing on the swings, their sneakers flashing as they swung in and out of the streetlights’ glow, always daring each other to further, faster, higher.

Everything is unbearably lovely, much more lovely than it should be. Nights like this make me feel as if something ought to be made out of them – a story, a song, a play. Otherwise, what purpose do they serve? Surely they don’t just exist for our enjoyment. Surely we’re meant to do something with them, meant to find a way to explain or celebrate their perfection.

I get so damn tired of feelings sometimes, the way they crash over you, threaten to drown you, and then slowly recede, leaving you wet and stinking and covered in seaweed. I think that in my next life I’m going to come back as a robot that’s incapable of feeling obligation or regret. I think that that would be nice.

Queen Guinevere's Maying by John Collier

Queen Guinevere’s Maying by John Collier

Nostalgia Machine: On Re-Watching Girl, Interrupted

1 Apr

Those of you who are fairly new to my blog may not know this, but on days when I’m not busy kicking the patriarchy square in the nuts or deconstructing inaccurate Facebook memes, I like to indulge in a little bit of nostalgia. Well, maybe a lot of nostalgia. Then I tweet extensively about my my indulgences, and sometimes end up writing about them here.

Which is all to say that I re-watched Girl, Interrupted the other night and now I want to talk about it.

I saw Girl, Interrupted in theatres, when it first came out, and it gave me a lot of Feelings. Actually, it gave me one main Feeling, namely that I basically was Winona Ryder’s character, if slightly less gamine and winsome. I mean, I was a depressed teenager who had a) frequently contemplated suicide, b) felt lonely and isolated, and c) wrote obsessively in serious-looking leather-bound journals. Of course I identified with the film version of Susanna Kaysen.

Every single scene, every thought, word, and action in that movie struck me as being perfectly, achingly true. Every time Winona Ryder looked at the camera with her wide, tearful eyes, every time her mouth trembled with emotion, every time she stared sadly off into the middle distance, I thought, yes. Yes, I get this.

Then, a few years ago, I bought Girl, Interrupted on DVD, fuelled by memories of how important it had been to me. But after watching it for less than an hour I had to turn it off. It was awful, unbearable even. The performances were overwrought, the dialogue ridiculously, almost comically, dramatic. I was embarrassed that I’d ever even liked this movie, let alone identified with the main character. I put the DVD back in its case, stuck it on the shelf and didn’t touch it again.

Or rather, I didn’t touch it until earlier this week, when Catherine, my sister and frequent accomplice in nostalgic endeavours, suggested that we watch it. Sure, I said, figuring that I could hate-watch it and then later make fun of it. Maybe we could even invent a drinking game, like, take a shot every time Susanna cries over how hard it is to be a white, middle-class American. Hilarious, right? I mean, right?

Except that on re-watching Girl, Interrupted, I discovered that it had, in the last five years, somehow gone past bad and straight back to good again.

At its core, this film isn’t really about mental health, or suicide, or Susannah Kaysen’s stay at the famed McLean Hospital. I mean, of course it is about all of those things, at least peripherally, but at its heart it’s about friendship. Specifically, it’s about a sort of intense, parasitic friendship that seems to exist only between young women, those deceptively bright, canny girls just on the cusp of entering the adult world.

And maybe this isn’t the type of friendship that every girl experiences. Maybe this is just me, projecting my own pathetic history onto the blank canvas of Winona’s smooth, perfect face. Maybe I’m the only one who sees this when I watch this movie. But I know that this is a type of friendship that I’ve engaged in not just once but over and over, and maybe I still do, to this day. It’s possible that it’s a pattern that will play out for the rest of my life, or at least until I grow up and finally get some sense knocked into me.

Can you believe that I’m thirty and still talking about growing up in the future tense?

The dynamics of this specific type of friendship are as follows: half of the friendship, let’s call her Girl One, is a strong, loud, brash character who doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks, says whatever’s on her mind and gives very little thought to the consequences of her actions. The other half is someone, call her Girl Two, who is almost the photographic negative of the first – quiet, reserved, terrified of how other people see her.

Think Peppermint Patty and Marcie from Peanuts, except amplified, grotesquely exaggerated.

When I say that this friendship is parasitic, maybe what I really mean is that it’s symbiotic. As a lifelong Girl Two, I’ve always thought that I needed Girl One more than she needed me, but I wonder, now, whether that’s true or now. Maybe we’ve needed each other in equal amounts. I’ve needed someone to act out all of the things that I would never, or could never, dare to do, someone whose own loud voice might give me permission to raise mine, someone who would never sugarcoat whatever they wanted to tell me. But perhaps my friends, in turn, needed someone to occasionally hold them back, someone to steady them, someone who would listen to them and not pass judgment.

The truth is that I don’t know why or how much these other girls loved or needed me, but I do know that I loved and needed them with an intensity that sometimes bordered on obsessive. Because these girls, these loud, strident girls, had both a popularity and notoriety (not that my teenage self could differentiate between the two) that I could only dream of. People either fiercely loved or passionately hated these girls; as for me, they didn’t even bother to notice that I existed.

But these girls noticed that I existed.

And the fact is that as much as I like to think that I’m the type to stand up for what I believe in, the type to shout down the misogynists, the racists, the homophobes, the transphobes, I still sometimes need someone to give me a push. I need someone to raise their voice first, show me how it’s done, teach me not to be afraid. Because for whatever reason, these gifts don’t exist inside of me, or if they do, they lie perpetually dormant, and need to be awakened again and again and again.

On my own, I am not good at challenging authority. Not really. I need other people, people like Angelina Jolie’s character Lisa, to egg me on. And, much like Winona Ryder’s Susanna, I’m not always good at figuring out when the Lisas in my life have gone too far. I put too much trust in them, and then end up places, sometimes frightening places, that I never intended to be. I let myself be blinded by love, or at least by longing and envy, and don’t notice that some of these Lisas are downright bad news. Or rather, I don’t notice until it’s too late.

So yeah, maybe at thirty years old I do still get Susanna. Maybe there are more layers to the similarities between us than I’d originally thought.

And all that absurd dialogue and overwrought acting? This time around, they seem to me to be a painfully realistic portrayal of how teenagers actually behave. When you’re in your teens, everything that you feel is so intense, so immediate, so overwhelming that you can speak only in terrible, laughable clichés. My mother has always said that teenagers are like toddlers with better language skills, and now, watching my son struggle to express frighteningly huge emotions with his sadly inadequate vocabulary, I’ve realized how right she is.

I’ve realized that when I watched Girl, Interrupted a few years ago, what embarrassed me the most was the idea that at one time I might have spoken or acted in any way that resembled Susanna. Surely, even as a teenager, I’d been too smart, too articulate to ever behave so pretentiously. But the truth is that I was ridiculously, probably amusingly, pretentious. I just didn’t recognize this trait because all of my peers were just as overwrought and dramatic as I was.

All of this is to say that I’m now back at a place in my life where I can like, maybe even love, this movie, if only because it seems like a neatly preserved time capsule of how I thought and felt half a lifetime ago. I remember what it was like to be where Susanna was. To suddenly find yourself at the end of high school faced with choices, choices, choices, and yet not to see any of them leading anywhere. When I was a teenager, I lived in terror of being “normal,” because I worried that choosing a normal path and ending up with a normal life would make me just as grey and miserable as all of the adults that surrounded me. There would come a time, of course, when having a normal life and a nuclear family and a nine-to-five job would seem wonderfully, almost exotically appealing to me, but that came much later. When I was in high school, I didn’t understand that opting out had its costs, some of which, it turned out, I wasn’t willing to pay.

And sometimes I miss my teenage self, because even if she lacked her own voice, she still somehow managed to be totally steadfast and uncompromising in her beliefs, even if those beliefs made her feel miserable and isolated. But mostly I’m just glad that I’ve learned how to trade off one thing for another, to give a piece of myself away in order to be able to keep a different part that is more necessary, more valuable. I’m grateful to the Lisas in my life who have taught me when to stand up mouth off and, somewhat by extension, when to sit down and shut up. I’m thankful for every time I’ve had to learn the lesson that it’s important not to trust the Lisas out there too implicitly, and that I need to learn how to think for myself. It’s a hard lesson, and one that it feels like I’ve had to learn often, but it’s a good one.

Mostly, though, I’m glad that I’ve found my way to where I am.

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Nostalgia Machine: On Re-reading Sandman

11 Mar

Matt and I have recently been re-reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, something that I’ve been putting off doing for a few years now.

I’m not sure why we decided to dive back into those books now, exactly – I guess part of it might be because I recently started following Mr. Gaiman on twitter and suddenly remembered how amazing he is. It’s also probably due to the fact that we just recently found the last couple of volumes needed to complete our collection for cheap at a discount bookstore. Mostly, though, I think it came out of how much I’ve been thinking about my friend Annie lately.

The thing is, I’ve been missing her like crazy, and I can’t think about the Sandman books without being reminded of her, and vice versa.

Annie moved in with me in the spring of 2004, just at the tail end of my annus horribilis. She was a friend of a friend, someone I barely knew, but I desperately needed a roommate, and she desperately needed a room. Although I’d met her a handful of times, at parties and theatre department events, I’d only ever spoken to her once. At some get-together or other I somehow found myself standing next to her, and I figured that I should try to make conversation. I racked my brains for something to say, and wound up complimenting her on this pin on her bag that said, “Go Fascinate Someone Else.”

She looked at me as if I’d said the most mundane, meaningless thing possible, took a drag from her cigarette, and said in her smoky, vaguely European voice,

“Yeah. I like it too. Obviously. Or I wouldn’t be wearing it.”

What I want to make clear here is that Annie was a super badass who dressed all in black, smoked like a chimney and never refrained from speaking her mind, even when she knew it was going to get her into trouble. She was a brilliant actress with a mysterious Soviet past and a deadpan stare that could wither just about anyone. Half the city admired her, half the city was afraid of her, and half the city wanted to sleep with her. And no, I didn’t accidentally say “half” instead of “a third” – I just mean that there was a lot of overlap between all three categories.

I had no idea why she would ever want to be my roommate.

I would estimate that there are four people who have had an enormous influence on my outlook on music, clothing, art and life in general. The first was Emily, who I met at a performing arts camp when we were twelve and who introduced me to vintage clothing, the Kids in the Hall and, music-wise, everything from Ani DiFranco to Sonic Youth. The second was Kat, who had first hated then later befriended me in while we were at university, and who is responsible for introducing me to pot, Sylvia Plath and the joys of being loud and obnoxious in public. The most recent one was my friend Audra, who has helped shape my take on third-wave feminism, internet activism and dance movies. The fourth, of course, was Annie.

I’m not sure, exactly, how Annie and I became friends. I think that it happened slowly, by degrees, with me making tentative friendly overtures like buying her beer and lending her books. Then she invited me out to her birthday and I went, bravely talked to a few of her friends*, then left early. I’m not sure what time she came home at, but the next morning she was still drunk. When I got up, she was lying sprawled out on our couch, her tank top askew and her already-short skirt hiked up even higher, and she kept giggling over everything I said. I made us both breakfast, and then suddenly, magically, all of my awkwardness melted away and it was like we’d known each other forever.

Mostly it feels like Annie and I have the kind of friendship that twelve year old boys have. I mean, you know that part in Stand By Me when they’re sitting around the campfire talking about pez candies and Wagon Train and whether or not Goofy’s a dog? And then narrator-Gordie says, “We talked into the night. The kind of talk that seemed important until you discover girls.” That’s what our friendship felt like then, and still feels like now. And if you’re an aficionado of Stand By Me in the same way that Annie and I are, I probably don’t have to explain that she’s Chris Chambers, and I’m poor old Gordie Lachance with the leech on his balls.

Anyway, that summer, the summer of 2004, Annie introduced me to the Sandman series. And as I worked my way through them, she re-read them, and together we fed each others’ obsessions. We would sit out on our North End stoop as the late afternoon cooled into evening, drink whatever we had on hand, share Annie’s pack of cigarettes and try to pull apart the Sandman universe. We teased out each layer, or at least the layers that we could find, and laid each thread of plot bare to examine it. We researched everything, trying to figure out which characters were historical figures and which were just plain made up. I think at some point we even made a flowchart or graph to keep track of our discussions. It was perfect.

That summer was like gorging on everything wonderful in life all at once, and if I could bottle it up and sell it, I could be a millionaire, like, tomorrow.

We eventually started casting ourselves and our friends as the Sandman characters. Annie, at the time, was a dead ringer for Death (PUN SO INTENDED):

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And I felt a weird kinship with Delirium:

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I’m not including a picture of myself because I look nothing like Delirium, but when I first read those books, I felt like her. I understood the stuff she said, even when most other people, both fictional and real, seemed to have no clue.

I loved Delirium. Loved her. I think my adoration for her was part of the reason I put off reading the Sandman books again for so long – because, of course, it’s dangerous to revisit anything that you’ve known too well, loved too deeply, or somehow view as having helped shaped who you are. It’s dangerous to expect something to feel the same after years and years of memories and expectations. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, those old books, movies and places are able to stir enough nostalgia to allow you to overlook all of the failings you’re suddenly able to see, but mostly going back to the things that you view as influential and formative is nothing but a disappointment. First of all, they can never live up to the hype that’s built up in your mind for the last ten or fifteen or twenty years, and second of all they’re often just plain terrible and end up making you feel as if a huge chunk of your childhood or young adulthood is somehow tainted.

And, see, Delirium is a character who would be ripe for this kind of adult realization. I was worried that, as a 30 year old, I would find her character to be ridiculous, and my love of her incredibly pretentious. I was worried that re-reading Brief Lives, my favourite Sandman of all time, would leave me rolling my eyes SO HARD at my younger self and her habit of being overdramatic about, well, everything. I was worried that, this time around, I would hate Delirium, or at the very least no longer love her and know her the way I had. And somehow, that would feel like a huge loss.

But you guys? Sandman is still amazing. And Delirium is still amazing.

Maybe it’s because when Annie moved in with me, I was just coming out of a major depressive episode, and I’m in a not-dissimilar place in my life right now. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t changed as much in nine years as I’d thought. Whatever the reason, Delirium still kills me in all the best ways possible. She says things, and I think, ohhhh, I get that. I’ve felt that.

Like this:

“I feel like … I don’t know. Someplace nobody ever goes anymore.”

Or this:

“It all keeps moving and it won’t stop and I just want it to stop and then I think what if it gets worse? You know? What if it gets worse?”

Or this:

“I like airplanes. I like anywhere that isn’t a proper place. I like in-betweens.”

Or this:

“What’s the name of the word for the precise moment when you realize that you’ve actually forgotten how it felt to make love to somebody you really liked a long time ago.”

Or this:

“You’ve never apologized to me. You just act like you know stuff I don’t know that makes everything you do okay.”

Ahhhhhhh (that is a sigh of total satisfaction after having a fictional character explain what’s in my heart)

I’m not really sure how to end this, except to say that I find myself back in the same curious, dreamy state that Sandman put me in the first time. I mean, it’s probably not just the books – it’s probably also the fact that spring is so close that you can taste it, and that my house is clean for once, and I ate some really transcendentally great yogurt today. But whatever it is, I’ll take it. I like this feeling. I’ve missed this feeling. It makes me feel floaty and insubstantial and wondrous in a way that I haven’t felt in years.

I just wish Annie was here to share this all with me, instead of being half a continent away.

I wish we were back on our stoop, eating Rassy’s pizza and drinking Kahlua cocktails and watching the sparrows hopping around eating our crumbs.

I wish I knew what to do with this feeling, now that I finally have it back.

———————

*It was actually only one friend, the nicest guy imaginable who would deliberately seek out shy, awkward people and talk to them at social gatherings. Seriously. The nicest.