2016: A year in review

So much already has been written about 2016. By almost every account, the year has been a raging dumpster fire – a hate-filled inferno consuming everything and everyone in its path.

And yes, a lot of really, really bad things happened this year.

But a lot of really good things happened too. And because life isn’t one giant binary, a lot of good and bad things happened all at once – sometimes at the exact same time.

My year has definitely been one of nuance. Sometimes black, sometimes white, but always very colourful.

Far and away, however, 2016 will be known as The Year That I Ran.

By my rough calculations, I ran around 3,000 kilometers in 2016. Much of this can be attributed to my marathon training and the fact that I ran every single day while living in Halifax. In fact, it has only been since falling ill over the past two weeks that I’ve actually slowed, and for the first time all year, ceased my endless striding.

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Besides my marathon (my 3:35 marathon!), I ran three trail races put on by MEC, and medaled in each. My first, a 15 KM trail race where I came third; my second, a 10 KM trail that wove its way along the old Musquodoboit railway where I came first; and my third, a 10 KM around Shubie Park in Dartmouth, saw me place second.

I take strange comfort in the asymmetry of it all and think of the many kilometers I will clock in 2017. Maybe I will finally clear a sub-40 minute 10 KM. And as Marc keeps patiently reminding me, maybe I will also join a running group.

For three months I lived in Halifax – a dream world where summer never ended and I wore sundresses and jean jackets every day. Where I rode my bike to the public library and read historical fiction and ate warm kale salad and peanut M&Ms by the handful.

I bought a pair of boots and I jumped on a plane and flew to Toronto where I stayed in a haunted hotel just so that I could see Christine and the Queens in concert. I sold raffle tickets at a Moosehead hockey game in benefit of the Canadian Breast Cancer society and watched Steve Patterson read from his memoire The Book of Letters I Didn’t Send.

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I slept poorly, save for the nights when I took lorazepam and my mind was forcefully quieted. I learned to hate the sounds of early morning bathwater.

In June, my mum and I travelled around the Baltic Sea, visiting Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and Finland. Together, we bore witness to exquisite and individual beauty, etched in cobblestones and brick towers, public gardens and street cafes, war memorials, and palaces, and parliaments. Everywhere, a narrative of passion and purpose, and above all, perseverance. We marvelled, atop our rickety bicycles, at each living history, and we reached out so that we might touch and see, stopping at every street corner, so that that we might also breathe.

I also slept restlessly for most of the trip, and would nightly slip out into the quiet of our cabin’s deck, staring endlessly into the dim light of the longest dusk. And there too, I would breathe.

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This year I read too many books and watched too many TV shows. I quit my job and began a new one. I told a lot of jokes at the expense of rape culture and performed the most important stand-up set of my life in front of a sold-out crowd at the Rickshaw Theatre.

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I also told a lot of stories about periods and told one story about my mum at the North American premier of Listen to Your Mother Vancouver. On The Storytelling Show, I interviewed a lot of really cool women who are doing really cool things and who make me want to do cool things too.

Marc and I celebrated eight years of marriage on June 28th. Thirteen years together in August.

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I have no idea what next year will bring.

My heart wishes for adventure and love and laughter, with many good times with friends and family. Great runs, and a lot of time spent in the outdoors. Nights cuddled with Marc under heaps of blankets, eating olives and cheese, listening to Stuart McLean stories and reading aloud from our favourite books.

Warm summer days riding my bicycle. Bathing at the beach. Pulling weeds from our backyard and growing a small vegetable patch to call our own.

Maybe I will even write a short story or two.

I will try to breathe more. Sleep better.

And reach for the exquisite beauty in everything.

I’d say please (please). I’m your man.

When we were young, my parents would take us on long winter road trips to Red Mountain and Silver Star. We didn’t do much as a family, but we skied.

The five of us would cram into our Toyota Turcel, packed to the hilt with equipment, clothes, blankets, pillows, and enough mandarin oranges to stave off scurvy for one hundred years. These trips also marked the yearly détente in my parents’ hard-lined approach to all things junk food, and over the course of the drive, my sisters and I would patiently await our gifts: a big bag of plain Ms. Vicky’s potato chips, Turtles chocolates, and homemade gingerbread cookies.

If heaven could be defined.

Other than the lingering smell of sea salt and a constantly queasy tummy (as the middle child I was forced to endure the middle seat), the thing I remember most about these trips is the music.

The wonderful music.

My family I would listen to tapes and tapes and tapes of Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and The Beatles. The Rankin Family and Stan Rogers. Boney M and Enya. Our tastes were eclectic as they were magic.

Because with so little to define us, they did just that.

I campaigned constantly for The Commitments Soundtrack, but my musical candidate was a consummate loser to Leonard Cohen. And every time I lost, I would beg the powers that were to “please.”

Please stop playing Leonard Cohen.

Unfortunately, they didn’t, and I suffered in silence.

I hated how his songs were too much. Couldn’t stand the way they made me feel. Drained of all emotion, and yet somehow still full to bursting. Slightly sweaty. Squirmy and shirty. Filled with a restlessness. An energy that was only exacerbated by the car’s hot and cramped quarters.

It was music that made me want to run away.

The only song that I could stand was “I’m Your Man.” I liked the synthy keyboards and the other moody instruments that, try as I might, I could never place. How it was more spoken word than song. The slow raspy voice. I liked how it had an immediate and sobering effect on my fellow passengers, forcing us all to pause.

To stop our frenzied fights. Breath life into our suffocating silences.

It made me feel warm. Cozy. I imagined dancing, slowly, as a grown-up.

But after grade seven we stopped going on ski trips.

After grade ten my parents divorced.

And I don’t know when I stopped listening to Leonard Cohen. I didn’t even think about him until after I started dating Marc.

We were up at his own parents’ cabin on the Sunshine Coast and we were looking through their record collection. We were trying to decide what to play next. We were slightly drunk and eating peanut butter sandwiches.

“We need something that we can dance too,” I said.

He pulled out Songs of Love and Hate.

“Not Leonard Cohen,” I heard myself say. I didn’t even stop looking through the other albums. “I hate him.”

Marc looked at me dumbfounded. “No one hates Leonard Cohen.”

“I do,” I said. “We used to listen to him all of the time on road trips. He’s depressing.”

Marc looked me in my eyes. Long and hard. And then he put the album away. “Okay,” he said. “We can play something else.”

And we did.

For years and years, we always played something else.

The Faces. Cat Stevens. Bob Dylan.

In the spring of 2010, I defended my thesis and bid adieu to graduate school. Marc and I celebrated on the Coast. Driving along the highway, I closed my eyes to the late afternoon sunfall. It felt like, for the first time in my entire life, I was no longer worried about school.

The next morning, I crawled out of bed and, alone, slid into the quiet of the house.

I tiptoed to the record player. Paused. Took out Songs of Love and Hate.

I held the cover lightly in my hands. Stared at the cover. Turned it over. Took out the record and placed it over the spindle. Set the needle.

And listened.

Think back to when

Tonight, I am electric to the touch. A wriggling, giggling eel. A lamplighter in the dark.

A wicked wick.

Today, I wrote. My lower back, a crooked crick. My bum, an indent. Bad posture, and too much tea.

Today, I ran with legs a fire.

Tonight, I walked. My cheeks, poppy flesh.

My lips, stung from a kiss.

That no matter how hard I try, I cannot forget.

Sometimes when I walk, I dance, and sometimes when I dance, I dance to this:

When I was eighteen, I walked to a photography studio on Quinpool Avenue to have my headshots taken.

When I was eighteen, I quit my job at Safeway and got a job as a server.

When I was eighteen, I read Crime and Punishment and learned to spell patronymic.

When I was eighteen, I dyed my hair red from box.

When I was eighteen, I didn’t like beer.

When I was eighteen, I wrote a part of a story to my boyfriend Marc:

Now, abandoned by his companion and in a nightclub which owed a lot to the whole early 90’s Goth/Vamp movement, Kevin wandered silently. His mind wrote great fantasies of blood, violence, and justice and he strode, unheeding, between the stares and the gropes of the dissolute dancers. He flexed the powerful muscles of his back, his unfolding wings eclipsing the strobes and casting great shadows over the denizens of this room.

His body shuddered as he inhaled the acrid sweat of the hallucinogenic, hormoned populous, hopped up on substances comprised of equal parts narcotics, equal parts expectation. Kevin’s mind began to elongate and expand – he felt a growth from within; his vanity extinguished, his interest peaked. Could these chosen adolescents, fueled by social malaise and suburban boredom be the reason he was brought back to life? What did he have to offer, to enhance their drab days of big bucks and fast cars? 

Although quite weak, Kevin noted in some form or other, a disgust and distrust of the environment he freely strode through. Banking on his good looks, flashy clothes and nine foot angel wings to distance himself on any would-be bloodsucker, he monitored the group.  

But he did not dance.

Eyes firmly on the prize

Here’s a weird thing that I did once.

Last November I got eyelash extensions.

The impetus behind this decision?

“The Holiday Season.”

And just to try something different.

The process of getting them done was more bizarre than anything else. Beyond being uncomfortable, it was also weirdly vulnerable. Lying on a bed in some woman’s 400 square foot bachelor apartment, as she slowly separated each of my eyelashes and glued monstrously fake lashes to their roots, I was acutely aware of how little room for error there could be in this procedure, what with her disproportionately sized tweezers so close to my eyeballs.

I was sure that one rogue sneeze would see them forever lodged into the base of my optic nerve.

Halfway through I remember thinking, “THIS ISN’T WORTH IT.” This reaction is, of course, my modus operandi when it comes to all aesthetic services. At some point I always find myself wishing I hadn’t committed to whatever hair I am having removed, or roots I am having having dyed, and had instead bought a big muffin and went for a walk in the sun.

But getting back to eyelashes – as I studied myself in a small hand mirror (passed to me after the glue had hardened on the last lash) I marveled at how many of my natural lashes it seemed I had lost in the process. Eyelash extentionists (and their proponents) claim that eyelash loss during the procedure is a myth, because all they are doing is attaching a longer lash to the ones you already have. However, I am suspiciously sure that I had way more eyelashes walking into that apartment, than I did walking out.

Of course, this didn’t matter in the slightest, because what I did have in their absence were synthetic masterpieces so utterly grand that they not only took over half of my face but gave me powers of flight every time I made the mistake of blinking too hard.

Once I got used to the heaviness of the lashes during my normal day to day, and the utter wretchedness of not being able to scrub my face in the shower, I really did start to enjoy them. Of particular note were the reactions they solicited from both friends and the general populace. People seemed to think they were pretty neat.

Because the lashes were so big, I wore my glasses almost exclusively, under the belief that my large black rims would tone down some of their impact. Whether this was the case, I have no conclusive evidence either way.

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In the end, the biggest problem with my lashes was how long it took my normal set to grow back once they all fell out. The extentionist had guaranteed that as I shed my prosthetics, my regular lashes would grow in at their normal rate, and the transition back from fake to real would be seamless and unnoticeable.

This was a big old lie. For weeks I was terrified that my vanity-driven decision to try out absurdly giant eyelashes had resulted in permanent, spiky, stumps, where once my lovely, natural lashes had flourished.

I even bought some stupid tube over the internet that advertised itself as an “all-natural, pharmacist approved growth serum“. A small part of me believed that I was fighting fire with fire, sure that I was going to end up both blind and eyelash-less; but I was desperate, and succumbed to the temptation.

I used that tube until the serum ran dry.

And in the end, my eyelashes did grow back – longer and thicker than before. Now, whether this is due to the serum, the fact that I had lost them all, or just luck of the draw – I don’t know.

What I do know was that I enjoyed my one exercise in tempting ocular fate. I won’t be getting extensions again, and have almost completely stopped wearing eye makeup. I figured best to lay low on the windows to my soul, and just let the sun shine through the way it was intended.

Plus now I can just fully commit to my lips.

Because there is no way that I would ever do anything to make them bigger.

And I like lipstick more anyway.

Speak low if you speak of love

Marc and I started dating the summer after I graduated from high school. For the past seven months we had wooed each other with the great passion unique only to teenagers – the passion that begets the most brilliant, if tragi-comedic memories.

We did our best to keep our new relationship status under wraps for the first few weeks.

This meant that we would stop holding hands if we ran into someone we knew on the street, and kind of tried not to make out in public.

Each time he would sleep over at the apartment I shared with my sister, and emerge, disheveled and blushing from my bedroom, Kate would take me aside and ask the same thing.

“So, like, you guys are dating, right?”

I would stare at the wall two inches above her head and shake my head.

“No Kate. We’re just friends.”

“Suuuuuuure,” she would respond. “Just friends.”

I told Marc that I wanted to be with him the first week of August 2003. I don’t know the date, but I do know it was the night that he cooked me tofu stir fry at his new place. His roommate was away, and he had asked me to come and eat dinner with him.

His wording was something along the lines of: “come over and help me warm my new abode.”

I knew that this was it. I was going to tell him that I wanted to be with him.

I was living in such emotional agony that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else in my life. Everything was imbued and coloured by such a high degree of physical discomfort and extreme angst. I laugh about it now, but at the time I really felt as though I would die if I had to spend one more minute in his company without touching him.

My sophomoric mind couldn’t make sense of what I was experiencing. I didn’t think he was “the one”. Marriage didn’t even cross my mind. But I knew that something was up. There was something about him that was tearing me apart, and it wasn’t just because he had amazing calf muscles and really good taste in books.

This boy had completely turned my life upside down and, as a firmly minted feminist, it wasn’t in my nature to allow myself to feel like this.

But there I was, intellectually, emotionally, and physically hot and bothered, and all I wanted to do was read new books, kiss new lips, and tell new tales.

I wanted to give my heart in exchange for his.

When I told him, in no uncertain terms, that I wanted to kiss him, and kiss him a lot, he responded in the politest, if most Victorian way.

“Oh!” He exclaimed. “Thank you!”

“Thank you?” I asked.

“THANK. YOU.”

Marc, being the paradigm of good manners and grace, made it clear that he felt the same way.

Our official (pre-wedding) anniversary is August 16th. We picked this date, seemingly randomly, but in truth because it was the night that we first parted ways as a freshly pressed couple. We were too raw to understand that two weeks apart wouldn’t kill us, and too feverish to properly see the magic that had already begun to sprout in the corners and cracks of our new love.

We said our goodbyes at a corner intersection, at 1 AM, three blocks away from his basement home.

I choked back tears, unable to properly articulate the mess of emotions careening about my heart. Marc, stoic as hell, told me that he: “would write.”

Again, I laugh now, reliving this memory. We were such beautiful Austenian caricatures: our youth, our sincerity, our unapologetic belief in the truth of our truth. How I hold this moment close, and remember the weight of my walk home. My soul, confused and heartsick.

There have been many times over the course of our thirteen years that Marc and I have spent time apart. Summers when I lived and worked in Halifax, and autumns when he built Olympian sites.

We’ve traveled separately, visited foreign lands; made memories of our own.

On June 28th of this year, we rang in eight years of marriage.

We were nine hours, and 7,500 kilometers apart.

I, in Tallinn, Estonia, and he, in our little home in New Westminster, BC.

I have been thinking so much about my time in that city, and how I immediately fell in love with this exquisite piece of the Baltic world.

That Tallinn is a piece of magic, there is no question. But knowing that I was there on a day so important to my personal narrative – well, I cannot pretend that this did not catalyze my immediate love affair with the city.

As I write this, I stand on the cusp of a three-month absence from Marc. Like that night, so long ago, standing paralyzed on that street corner, I am ruminating on time spent away from each other. Me, on the east coast and he, here on the west.

Only this time I am less confused. Less angsty. Less heartsick and heartbroken.

I am sad, but I am alive. Afire.

We are life. We are love. Simply. That is our truth.

And those calf muscles?

Yep. Still there.

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