Tag Archives: nostalgia

Life Goes On And Other Garbage

18 May

The main problem with life is that it goes on. And on. And on.

People say that like it’s supposed to comfort you. Like, if you don’t get the job you wanted or your dog dies or the guy you’re so smitten with just out of the blue stops calling, your mom or your friend or your boss will inevitably say, oh, well, life goes on. As if i’s supposed to make you feel better, somehow, knowing that not only do you have to deal with this stupid bleeding heartache, but even while you gingerly nurse that hurt you still have to keep making your stumbling way through this magnificent/godawful old world.

Life goes on even after you’ve poisoned every good thing that’s ever come your way. Life goes on after you’ve single-handedly destroyed every relationship that was important to you, as if you were on some kind of mission to prove just how unloveable a person can be. Life goes on after you’ve fucked around so much at work, knowing all the while that you’re fucking around and hating yourself for it, that you face the very real risk of being fired. Life goes on, and you’re left standing amid all the sad wreckage of your little self. Life goes on even on the days when you can’t get out of bed. Life goes on especially on those days.

Life goes on after the good stuff, too. Like that walk home from the bar with your lover, when both of you were tipsy enough to find everything perfect and funny, even the things that were neither perfect nor funny. It was summer then, a real big city summer where daytime heat smashes you hard against the pavement, but  that night was a sort of reprieve. The baking stillness of the day was gone, and there was a delicious breeze coming from somewhere, maybe the lake. The leaves on the trees were broad and green and made a soft shushing sound above you. The streetlights hazy, and the world smelled like fresh cut grass. You knew that when you got home you would fuck and eat junk food and watch cartoons and then fall asleep in a tangled pile like a pair of puppies.

It was the kind of moment that you feel nostalgic for even as you’re living through it – you catch yourself mid-laugh and realize how happy you are, and then you instantly feel the sharp pang of longing for the thing you’re still in the middle of experiencing.

But life goes on.

You don’t get to hit pause or take a break from living. Even if you stay perfectly still and will everything around you to do the same, life still steamrollers over you. There’s no chance to sit back and appraise the situation, no time to collect your wits or figure out what you’re going to do next. You have to stay on your toes, you have to keep running, or else life will crush you. But even once you’re crushed, life goes on.

I have such a deep ambivalence about living. Things are either painfully, frantically wonderful or else they’re bitterly terrible. I love this world, but I love it with a suffocating zeal that can’t possibly be maintained. I rarely ever seem to hit that balance of peaceful contentedness that other people seem to manage – I’m always running headlong into something, trying to create some feeling that would otherwise be lacking. And if I do somehow manage to hit that point of effortless happiness, I always manage to sabotage myself. I’m like Shiva, the destroyer of worlds, except that I’m Anne, the destroyer of boring, petty human lives.

Which isn’t easy.

I mean, you really have to work hard to be this consistently vicious and miserable all of the time.

It’s not that I want to be unhappy, it’s just that my brain is an expert at leading me on these circuitous little journeys that always start out so promisingly but end with me stabbing myself in the back. I’m an ouroboros of anguish, both the giver and receiver of all my own pain. I’m hell-bent on being the wrecking ball that smashes through the wall of my own house. I’m all-the-other-semi-accurate-and-very-dramatic metaphors you can think of.

And, I mean, we could delve into all the reasons why I act this way, but frankly the story is long and unoriginal. Suffice to say that shit happened, some of it was my own fault, and now I’m here. The rest I’ll save for my therapist.

Because life goes on and I’ll have another therapy session this Wednesday and then I’ll come home and crash into my bed and try to sleep but probably I won’t be able to.

And then I’ll get up and putter around the house and maybe wash the dishes or start dinner since life, of course, goes on.

I wish that I could wrap this post up on a hopeful note, maybe with a line of trite wisdom that you might find on a greeting card or in a particularly terrible self-help book. I want to be able to tell you that everything’s going to be fine, that sure, life goes on, but it’s all in what we make of it and we have to take the good with the bad and there are other fish in the sea. I wish I could tell you that I wasn’t sitting here in a seething fury of fear and self-hatred, but that wouldn’t be true. I wish I could tell you that I wasn’t a self-indulgent, oversharing little brat, but. Well. Here we are.

The most that I can do is offer all of this up to you. Maybe you’ll see some of yourself reflected here. Maybe a sentence or two will strike you as being quite true, in a way that you were never able to articulate before. Or maybe this will help you be more compassionate or some junk like that.

You, the people reading this, are the only thing that make these garbage essays about my garbage feelings worthwhile. Because you always seem to glean some kind of meaning from them, even when all I can see is a morass of bad prose. You’re the way that I manage to justify bleeding this way all over the internet. You somehow make that bleeding important.

Against all odds, you give me hope.

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Pete Seeger, or How Teenagers Listen To Music

29 Jan

I’ve had a weirdly emotional reaction to Pete Seeger’s death. Like, way more intense than I would have imagined. I mean, he was 94, right? That’s a good run. A really good run. And I haven’t listened to his music in years and years. Maybe not really – not seriously, anyway – since I was a teenager, back in the days when I wore daisy chains in my long, ratty hair and fancied myself to be some sort of hippie. Later, I abandoned him when I grew what I thought was a more sophisticated taste in music; his stuff started to seem too plain, too openly earnest, too babyish.

Today, though, I’ve been listening to his songs non-stop, and nearly every single one of them has made my eyes well up. These days, I’m all about plain and openly earnest. I’ll take someone who really means what they’re singing over the clever kid with the hollow, dead-eyed lyrics any day.

I guess I’ve always loved Pete Seeger; at the very least, I’ve been listening to his songs my entire life. When I was a little kid we sang “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” in Brownies and Girl Guides. When I was a bit older I liked “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “If I Had A Hammer”. As a pretentious teenager who loved all things indie and underground, I fell in love with “Guantanamera” after it was used in Don McKellar’s 1998 film Last Night.

Last Night takes place during the final six hours of the world, which is about to end in a very polite Canadian apocalypse. The movie follows various story lines of characters, their paths often crossing and re-crossing, trying to make their last moments significant (or not). Sandra Oh plays a woman who’s desperately trying to get home to her husband, having gone out to buy the guns that they’re going to kill each other with just before the end comes – a sort of fuck you to the current circumstances, a way of taking control of their own deaths. But she can’t get home, because people are rioting in the streets, so she winds up at the apartment of a man played by Don McKellar. She asks to kill (and be killed) in lieu of her husband, as a way of keeping her word to him even if she can’t be with him. He agrees. And so the movie ends with them on his patio, guns pressed against each others’ heads, waiting until the last possible moment to pull the trigger. “Guantanamera” plays in the background.

But instead of shooting each other, they lower their hands, lean in, and kiss. And that too is a form of resistance, a way of saying fuck you to their circumstances.

And then the sun flares into an obliterating white, and everything stops.

I can’t watch it without crying. Still. Sixteen years later.

That scene might have been my first lesson in the ways that protest and resistance can look so different from how we might imagine them. It also may have been the first time I really understood that just because you know that there’s no possible way out, you still need to go down fighting.

Those were things that I learned from Pete Seeger’s music, too.

When I was a teenager, all music held some sort of lesson. I listened to music differently back then, in a way that seems uncomfortable, maybe almost painful now. There was an intensity of focus, a dizzying, full-body absorption that is almost totally lacking now. I studied songs that I loved as if they were going to be on the final exam; I learned them backwards and forwards, parsed their lyrics for meaning (especially meaning that seemed to apply specifically to my life), wrote them out over and over in the margins of my schoolwork. I lived those songs in a way that I just don’t anymore. I’m not sure when this stopped – sometime in my early twenties, I would guess – and I miss it. But maybe you just can’t sit with that kind of emotional intensity forever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that kids – teenagers especially – listen to music. And it’s almost like at that age, we listen as a way of learning how to interpret the world around us. Pop songs are, for teenagers, a sort of crash-course in understanding major life events that they haven’t yet experienced. I’d heard hundreds of songs about heartbreak before I ever had my heart broken; I’d listened to songs about death, about war, about inequality and resistance and protest long before actually living through those things. I sang along with songs about love, about its joys and its frightening fragility, years before falling in love. And so maybe that’s where the intensity comes from – we’re studying these three minute lessons packed full of unknown and highly romanticized human experiences, wanting so badly to know just exactly how they will feel when they finally happen to us.

When I was a teenager, I thought every song was about me. Even the ones I didn’t understand.

Pete Seeger’s songs seemed to be about me, too. Or at least about the great things that I would do – stand up against injustice, lead the charge against the oppressors, save the world. I wanted to be the girl who walked up to the line of soldiers, their guns, cold and oiled and gleaming, pointed straight at her, calmly offering them a daisy. I wanted to be so unafraid, even though I couldn’t imagine a time when I wasn’t always afraid of something or other.

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And maybe I am that girl now, just a little bit. And if that’s true, then it’s at least in part because of songs, like the songs of Pete Seeger, and theatre and art and literature and oratory that have stirred my stupid sluggish soul and made me believe that I could and should be doing something more than I am. Because that’s the magic of Seeger’s music – that it can create community where there was none before, move the crowd to action, and actually affect change.

Music, if properly wielded, can start a revolution.

And maybe tonight I’m listening again with that same intensity that I used to have. And maybe I’m learning all over again about subjects that I know nothing about; subjects that yesterday I might have thought I was some sort of expert in.

So thank you, Pete, for all the revolutions, big and small, that you are responsible for. Thank you for the big thoughts framed in simple rhymes and simple chords. Thank you for the music you gave to the labour rallies, the civil rights movement, the anti-war protests. Thank you for reminding us that sometimes the written word can be ten times as powerful than a punch or a kick or a bullet. Thank you especially for your earnestness, because these days what I want more than anything is to be earnest. Thank you.

I hope it’s warm and peaceful wherever you. I hope that it’s dark, and that you’re finally able to take your rest. You’ve more than earned it.

This machine surrounds hate - Pete Seeger's banjo-8x6

2013 In Review: Part 1

29 Dec

It’s been a wild year, you guys. Mostly amazing, though. I mean, there was some not-so-great stuff in there for sure, but in my personal 2013 the good definitely outweighed the bad. Weirdly I feel like I’m one of the few people who can say that.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

JANUARY

I started the year off by making myself a flower crown which was somehow THE BEST THING IN MY LIFE (I am really into flower crowns and didn’t realize I could actually MAKE THEM FROM STUFF I BOUGHT AT THE DOLLAR STORE):

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Then I went to my friends Jennie and Red’s New Year’s party:

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On our way home from the party our subway was delayed by a girl who may or may not have been threatening to somehow harm herself. It seemed like an ominous beginning to the year.

2012 had gone out not with a bang but a whimper; on December 30th I’d published a post about how hard I was finding it to cope – re-reading it now makes me feel so incredibly relieved that I’m no longer in this place:

These days I feel as if I’ve lost the capacity for joy. I’ll catch myself mid-laugh and realize that I’m faking it, and I’m faking it so well that I’ve nearly got myself convinced. In the same way that it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that spring will ever come again, it’s also hard to believe that anything will ever make me feel good or happy again. I have these thoughts, like, hey, maybe at the beginning of my life I was handed out a finite number of good experiences and now, in the winter of my 30th year, I’ve somehow managed to spend the last one.

I’m grateful that this December I still, somehow, believe in the promise of spring.

The rest of January was tough. I was depressed for a lot of it, and to make matters even worse, early in the month Matt, Theo and I were struck by a stomach bug that led to the enchanting experience of throwing up all over a bathroom stall at Sick Kids.

There were a few highlights that month, of course. Shortly after New Year’s Day we participated in an Idle No More rally at Yonge and Dundas, which was pretty amazing:

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And then on January 17th it was Theo’s second birthday, which was pretty rad:

Theo the morning of his second birthday

Theo the morning of his second birthday

Also Wil Wheaton tweeted at me, which, I mean, HIGHLIGHT OF MY FUCKING LIFE.

Other than that, though, January was pretty hard. Depression-wise, things came to a boiling point at the end of the month. I won’t get into the gory details, but by then I was suicidal and sick with guilt over the fact that I felt that way. I went to my doctor, who increased the dosage of my antidepressants. I talked to my therapist, who listened and kindly nodded. I talked to my friends and family, who had advice that ranged from well-meaning to useless. Nothing seemed to do anything; the days just dragged on and on, weak winter light bleeding into blank, sleepless nights. It’s funny – now that things are so much better, I can’t really remember how those days felt. I can only remember that they were the emotional equivalent of the sensation and sound of fingernails on a blackboard. They were unbearable.

On January 31st my friends Audra and Jairus took me to the CAMH emergency room. I saw a psychiatrist there and spent nearly an hour talking to her. She was nice – not condescending, not pushy, not mean. Just nice. And young. And I totally coveted her wardrobe.

After that, things started to slowly, inexplicably get better. Somehow seeing her gave me permission to feel what I was feeling, and having the guilt over what I felt lifted made an enormous difference.

FEBRUARY

February was a weird sort of in-between time. I felt like I was in some kind of borderland, not quite here but not quite somewhere else, either. I spent a lot of time trying to pull myself back together, and I think that by and large I succeeded? One of the things the CAMH psychiatrist had “prescribed” was to take more time for myself. She said that I should try to do one thing a day just for me, so I did exactly that. I went and sat in quiet cafés and wrote in my journal. I took mid-day trips to the art gallery and drank in all the gorgeous around me. I went to the water spa and sat for hours in pools of salt water reading the Game of Thrones series. I tried hard not to feel guilty over all the selfish things I was spending money on.

February 11th was the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s suicide, which seemed strangely important. That date felt like a sort of arbitrary line in the sand, and I thought that if only I could get past it, things would get better. Part of it was that I felt like I was lucky enough to be moving on with my life, while she was constantly frozen in her 30th year, at the height of her poetic career but what must have seemed like the nadir of her personal life. I wrote about how strange it was that this year, when I turned 31, I would suddenly be older than she had ever been.

At some point towards the end of month I cemented my friendship with Nathan, who, at that time, was working at a fancy food store a block away from the studio that I manage. I would talk to him every time I went in to eat all the free samples or buy discounted day-old stuff, but we weren’t really friend-friends until one day I went to pay for something and he saw my copy of George R.R. Martin’s Dance With Dragons sticking out of my purse. After that we sort of fell into deep smit with each other and we’ve been pretty inseparable ever since. Nathan is mostly a super tall dude version of me with really good hair who makes me laugh a lot. I keep trying to put into words how amazing he is, and I keep coming up stupidly short, so I’ll just leave it at this: Nathan is one of the best things that has happened to me this year.

Other February highlights include:

This super rad Star Trek sweater I found at Value Village

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As is my tradition, I spent Valentine’s Day with my girlfriends instead of with Matt. We ate a fancy dinner and then got drunk and mouthy, which seems like the best possible way to spend that stupid holiday. I also wrote about how much I hate Valentine’s Day.

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I wrote an article for XOJane about breastfeeding, for which Matt took what might be one of my favourite pictures of Theo and I ever.

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The two biggest events in February were definitely the two nights that Matt and I had on our own away from Theo, just two grownups doing grownup things without a manic two year old to interrupt them. The first was early in the month, when my friends Eden and Michael offered to babysit Theo overnight. Matt and I spent our sacred time away at the Gladstone Hotel, in a super fancy room:

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It was the first time we’d ever been away from Theo overnight, and things went well for all parties involved!

Then, at the end of February, Matt and I went to a classy whiskey-tasting event in Kingston and spent the night at the same B&B we’d stayed at the night of our wedding while my mom took care of Theo. Turns out I super like whiskey:

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On February 27th I deleted my Facebook account for a week, which was pretty much exactly what I needed to do right then.

MARCH

March was pretty much a red-letter month for me in 2013. This year could, among other things, be called The Year I Fell Totally Head-Over-Heels In Love With Patti Smith, a process that was cemented by seeing Smith in concert at the Art Gallery of Ontario on March 7th. There had only been a handful of tickets to her performance there, but I’d somehow managed to score one by going and waiting in the freezing cold outside of the gallery the morning that they went on sale. It was so, so unbelievably worth it.

I WAS THIS CLOSE TO PATTI SMITH YOU GUYS:

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AUGH

Other Patti Smith highlights of this year include: seeing her exhibit Camera Solo, reading her book Just Kids, getting Horses on vinyl for my birthday from Nathan, and tearing through one of her all-time favourite books, Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin. PATTI SMITH I LOVE YOU.

I wrote some stuff that garnered a bunch of pretty rad attention in March, including 15 Assumptions That Might Be Useful To Make, which was my first post ever to be Freshly Pressed, I wrote a ridiculous alphabet poem for International Women’s Day which was shared by some pretty cool people INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO the Girl Guides of Canada, and I learned what it really, truly means to have a post go viral after writing a post called “I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter” in response to the Steubenville rape trial. That post, which has had half a million views to date, was shared by super crazy professional publications such as The Believer, Mother Jones and The Atlantic. YOU GUYS THOSE ARE WHERE THE REAL WRITERS ARE. I think March was maybe the first time I’d ever felt like a For Real Writer Lady.

Other March highlights include going to Montreal for my grandmother’s 85th birthday, an event that was notable for three reasons:

1. My grandmother (centre, age 10) celebrated her 85th trip around the sun

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2. Theo looked SUPER ADORABLE in a kilt

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3. I figured out how to do a sock bun

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As the month was waning I got to experience my first ever Write Club, where I watched the super charming Ryan F. Hughes read his work.

I also wrote another post that went viral, this time about a meme that I kept seeing pop up claiming that the holiday Easter is named after the ancient Babylonian goddess Ishtar. SPOILER ALERT, EASTER IS NOT NAMED AFTER ISHTAR YOU GUYS.

At the end of March I went to an awesome reproductive rights party with Audra and Jairus and I GOT TO HOLD THIS TINY KITTEN.

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CLEARLY I WAS NOT KIDDING WHEN I SAID MARCH WAS GREAT.

APRIL

In April I started painting again after about ten years of not painting. It’s one of those things that wholly absorbs my attention, which is kind of a nice vacation from the rest of my life. I haven’t painted much since the spring, and putting this post together is a good reminder that I should start again.

We had a lot of family art time in April

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Among my masterpieces were this weirdo fox

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And this New York skyline for my sister Claire

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In late April, I met and had dinner with Sheila Heti and I am not going to be weird and fan-girly about it here but uh it was pretty great. I wore a dress and put flowers in my hair! I made up cue cards with talking points in case I got really awkward and couldn’t think of anything to say, but I shouldn’t have worried because we pretty much just sat and talked for hours. It was, as Sheila said, a good first date.

On April 27th I went to my high school reunion (well, it wasn’t, like, a reunion-reunion, it was the 25th anniversary of the special arts program that I’d participated in, but it was basically a reunion). I’ve been pretty vocal about how un-fun my high school experience was, and I told everyone that I absolutely, definitely WAS NOT GOING, and then of course I went. And I had fun. So I guess that’ll show me.

The good news is that I looked cute:

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Channeling my inner Patsy-from-Ab-Fab

Channeling my inner Patsy-from-Ab-Fab

Dancing my little heart out

Dancing my little heart out with Graham and Susan

I wrote some pretty serious stuff in April, including the ways in which Dove manipulates womenRehtaeh Parsons’ suicide, the Boston Bombing, and the kidnapping and sexual assault of a five year old Indian girl. I also experienced one of the worst hangovers of my adult life and wrote a 13 step guide to hangover survival. So, you know, it was kind of a mixed bag in terms of content. Also I was STILL FUCKING HUNGOVER AT 8:30 PM THE NEXT EVENING. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I WATCH STAR TREK AND DRINK TOO MANY MARTINIS.

MAY

From my journal, dated May 2nd:

I’m sad tonight. The air is warm and smells of new earth and the heavy sweetness of flowers. As I walk home through the Annex I can hear soft laughter and the clink of dishes, comforting post-dinner sounds from all the surrounding houses. The kids are out tonight, smoking pot in the park, playing on the swings, daring each other to go further, higher. Everything is unbearably lovely, much more lovely than it ought to be. I want to hate this world, but I can’t. I can’t love it, either. I’m stuck somewhere in between.

Spring is always the time when I feel like everyone else is out having more fun than I am. Spring is when I worry everyone is doing a better, more interesting job of living than I am. I feel like there’s something stirring inside me, wanting to wake up, but it can’t, or else I won’t let it. Being miserable in the winter isn’t so bad, because everyone else is miserable, too; being miserable in the spring and summer, when everyone else is out having fun is another thing altogether.

I felt better as the month went on, though. Matt’s brother Adam came to visit, and Theo had a blast hanging out with him:

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That month we went to Adam’s CD release in Sarnia. You can download his music for free here (although I do encourage you to make a donation).

On May 20th I read my own work at Write Club which was SUPER GREAT AND AMAZING. Also I won my round and am now the owner of a much-coveted tiny plastic trophy. I am really lucky to have a wonderful group of friends, and Audra, Ryan, Lili, Frances and Nathan were all there to clap super hard for me (Jairus would have been there if he hadn’t been sick!). What why am I so lucky.

On May 30th Henry Morgentaler died and the Huffington Post asked me to write a sort of tribute to him. Which, I mean, I find it kinda hilarious that I am the first person they think of when they need someone to write about women’s reproductive rights. LET’S ASK ANNE, SHE’S ALL OVER THAT PRO-CHOICE SHIT. Fun fact: I wrote that post while sitting on a bench at the corner of Yonge and Eglinton right after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness.

HI ZACHARY QUINTO, CALL ME MAYBE.

Other highlights!

We went to Riverdale Farm and I experimented with mint green short-shorts:

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Matt and I went to see Fiddler on the Roof at Stratford. I don’t have any pictures of the show, but here’s one my mom took of us before we left Toronto:

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My friend Brendon held his annual friendapalooza barbecue, and he and Theo wore matching outfits:

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I finally visited Jack Layton’s grave:

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I discovered this amazing old picture of Alex Trebek:

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I also wrote about the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh, why I’m not a huge fan of Mother’s Day, and self-loathing.

JUNE

Here is my June in pictures:

Theo got his nails done by a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Hilary Clinton

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I read in parks

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With Nathan

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We spent a lot of time outdoors

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I saw The National and Mikal Cronin at NXNE (not pictured: The National or Mikal Cronin)

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I was a hilarious drunk

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Annie and Michael visited from Halifax. OH MAN was it ever good to see them

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I dug up a bunch of my favourite Matt and Theo pictures for Father’s Day

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Ancient Romans invaded the Royal Ontario Museum

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I had my first PRINT article published in Shameless Magazine

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I made a flower crown for Audra

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I stole Nathan’s Jays hat

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I stole Nathan’s I Wanna Be Your Dog t-shirt and cut it up into an awesome tank top

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Not pictured: I STOLE NATHAN’S WALLET (kidding, kidding)

We visited Kingston and Claire showed Theo the kid-sized train at her work

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It was maybe the best day of his life

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On June 1st I went to see my friend Drew’s band play and realized that I had no fucking clue what to do when drunk folks start calling people fags.

One of my favourite high school teachers, Roland Muller, died and his death was so much harder on me than I’d imagined it would be.

I wrote 10 Signs that Feminism May Not Be For You for the Outlier Collective, and it wound up being my second post ever to be Freshly Pressed. Yay!

I wrote some advice for Sheila Heti.

I started writing my book, and then wrote about writing my book. META.

So that was the first half of my year. I was originally gonna do this whole thing in one single post, but I’m only halfway through and I’m already at 3,000 words, so I think that I’ll stop here.

Coming up next: 2013 PART TWO: THE RETURN OF 2013.

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:

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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.

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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

High School Redux

29 Apr

So a little while ago I blogged about how I absolutely, no-way, seriously was not going to my high school reunion.

I hated high school. Hated it. There was no fucking way that I was going to be talked into setting foot in that building again.

An old friend and I exchanged several emails coming up with long, detailed reasons for why we were going to miss the reunion.

Naturally, I ended up going.

A couple of notes about reunions:

1. If you blog about how you’re not going to your reunion, every one will spend all evening coming up to you and asking if you’re glad that you went after all. Not that I’m complaining about this – just mentioning, is all. You know, in case you were planning on emulating my life choices (note: I do not recommend this).

2. Everyone will tell you that you look exactly the same. This is meant as a compliment, although admittedly I didn’t initially take it as one. I mean, come on – the whole point of going to this reunion was to prove to people that I’m not the gross, ugly, greasy-skinned loser that I was in high school. But then I realized something – everyone is, in one way or another, an ugly loser in high school. I doubt that even the prettiest, most popular girls were immune from hating the way they looked. I also realized that, as hard as I was on myself back then, I didn’t look that bad.

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I mean, sad, angry and consumed with ennui, sure. Wearing an ill-fitting velour shirt, yes. But not exactly the horrific, Medusa-like creature I’ve been picturing all these years.

Anyway, in response to everyone who is absolutely dying to know whether or not I’m glad I went: Yes. I am.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t overwhelming, because it was. The first part of the reunion, which took place at the school itself, was especially tough. I feel like I spent a good chunk of the afternoon wearing my I’m-so-emotional-right-now-but-I’m-trying-hard-to-smile grimace, so if we ran into each other and I seemed flustered and weirdly toothy, that’s why. It was just a lot of people, and a lot of energy, and a lot of complicated feelings all at once, you know? And by “complicated” I mean “run the whole spectrum of emotions from great to achingly terrible.

The “great” moments include running into friends that I haven’t seen for years and years and spending hours starting every sentence with, “Hey, remember when?” For example: hey, remember when John Winter told the drama teacher on her last day at the school that she had a beautiful body and he wanted to make love to her? Remember how our mascot was Johnny Rebel, the Confederate soldier, and we had a Confederate flag hanging in our foyer, and NO ONE THOUGHT THIS WAS A PROBLEM UNTIL 1999? Remember every fucking crazy thing that Jason Baker ever did?

I was also super happy to be able to see a bunch of my old teachers, including my two favourite English teachers of all-time (one of whom occasionally reads this blog, YEAH, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE). Some of my old teachers barely remembered me (or else didn’t remember me at all but faked it pretty convincingly), but most of them seemed glad to see me. One of them, a music teacher, took me aside later in the night and said that she was really, really happy to see that I was in a good place with my life, and that was kind of gratifying because it meant that at least one of my teachers had noticed how miserable I was back then.

Another high point was finding this extremely adorable (if I do say so myself) picture of me from when I was fourteen:

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This was from a writing “mystery tour” that happened in my first year of high school. It was a small group of students, and I was one of only three ninth graders invited along. They took us to various exotic locations around Waterloo Region (including the West Montrose Kissing Bridge and the boiler room of our high school), and at one point a photographer from the local newspaper showed up and took a picture of me sitting on a giant pile of tires behind Paleshi Motors in Elmira. The whole idea was that we were supposed to be inspired to write amazing things by all the places that we visited, and maybe that worked out for some people, but not me. Every word I wrote that day was terrible, and even as I was writing them, I knew they were terrible.

But you know what? My English teacher thought that I was a good writer, and that’s how I ended up being asked along on the trip. And now I look back at this picture and I think, Whoa, someone actually thought that I was a writer, and look, there’s me writing like a real gosh-darn writer lady.

Plus I am just super adorable. LOOK AT HOW SERIOUS MY FACE IS.

The less-than-great moments were watching the “documentary” that someone had made about the Integrated Arts Package and hearing people talk about how the program had absolutely, definitely, for-sure been a wonderful, life-altering experience. Because I guess the fact is that I’m jealous of those people, jealous in a gross, green-eyed-monster kind of way. I wanted to have been able to say that I, too, had come out of high school feeling brave and confident and talented. I wanted to be able to go on record saying that the Eastwood arts program was the best thing that had ever happened to me in my whole stupid life, but it wasn’t. The fact was that I couldn’t get my shit together, and not a whole lot of people there really seemed super interested in helping me get my shit together, and that was that. And, I mean, I did get my shit together later, and I have a great life now, and everything worked out fine, etc. It’s just that I feel sad that I missed out on this apparently amazing time that everyone else was having.

Except that not everyone else was having an amazing time – you just don’t find out until afterwards that pretty much everyone else was, in some way, miserable, too.

At one point on Saturday, while we were still at the school, I texted a friend and referred to Eastwood as the “pit of despair.” And like, I was kind of joking? But also kind of not?

I mean, I guess maybe that’s the thing – maybe high school is supposed to be a pit of despair, you know? Maybe that’s what these reunions are really about – reconnecting with people who went through this terrible, hormone-fuelled hell at the same time that you did. Maybe reunions are supposed to help you realize that everyone was so wrapped up in their own self-loathing that they had no time or energy to notice how much of a loser you were. Maybe you were fine all along and you just didn’t know it. Maybe.

Your high school classmates are like people that you lived with through a war, or a natural disaster, or some other awful event. You might not have a whole lot in common, and maybe they wouldn’t be the people that you’d pick as your friends if you were given a choice, but they understand something about you that not many other people do. Just the fact that you were able to push through and survive and make it out the other side with all of your faculties intact somehow binds you together, even if nothing else does.

I guess that one of the main things that I took away from the reunion was a realization that so many of these people would have been willing to be my friends, if only I’d let them. At the time I didn’t think that I was building walls and pushing people away from me, but of course I actually was. And I’m not saying oh God imagine what could have been, but still. I keep thinking about the part in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, when Francie graduates from the eighth grade and discovers to her astonishment that all of her classmates, none of whom were her friends, suddenly want to write in her yearbook and know what her summer plans are and where she’ll be going to high school:

“They’re nice,” Francie thought. “I could have been friends with them all the time. I thought they didn’t want to be friends. It must have been me that was wrong.”

I mean, I guess that’s the thing about walls, emotional or otherwise – they make excellent defences, but they can be isolating, too. If you’re smart enough, you’ll let the good people in and keep the bad ones out, but Jesus, who’s that smart? Especially when they’re fifteen?

I guess what I really want to say is this: high school. It fucking sucked, and maybe it didn’t have to. But it did, and that suckiness got me to where I am now.  And my life now is pretty sweet, so there’s not much point in regretting any of it, or feeling bitter about it. I mean, okay, maybe I still regret some stuff, but on the whole I’m a lot more at peace with everything. And that’s pretty cool.

My only disappointment with the reunion was that they didn’t play this song:

Because you know what? I would have fucking nailed it.