Oh, the Terror!

Some things:

I recently read an article about the many misunderstandings and misconceptions we – the collective, social “we” – have about singlehood. The author, a single woman, wrote about the many (often invisible) financial and emotional costs associated with being partnerless. She also argued against the often proscribed narrative that one needs to “fix” oneself – while single – in order to attract a mate. According to her, the “love yourself in order to love another” thesis is just a fancier way of saying that humans considered “broken” are unworthy of love. And when we say that someone has found love, we’re actually just saying that, per society’s adjudications, that they have been “fixed”.

This seems universally awful and I was struck my two ideas presented in the piece. The first, that as human beings, we have defined our natural, default status as “partnered” and use modifiers like stable, healthy, and loved (including love of self) to build out this concept.

Now, I have spent half of my life in three relationships and have not been single since December of grade eleven. So while I don’t know what it’s like to be thirty and living without a partner, I do know what it’s like to be thirty and living with a sense of brokenness. I know what it’s like to live a life defined by instability, sickness, and self-hatred and know that this had absolutely nothing to do with my relationship status.

Being in a relationship – as long as it is loving and constructive – can certainly help in times of crisis, but it will never prevent horrible or hard things from happening. And someone struggling, or simply living a nuanced life, isn’t any less attractive because of these things. They certainly aren’t “broken.” I know, because I have been, and continue to sometimes be, this person.

If society cannot recognize this, cannot see that life is an endless obstacle race that allows for the greatest of victories and most horrifying defeats, then this is the thing that requires “fixing.” And all those who refused to acknowledge this truth? They are the ones who will have a hell of a time sustaining a relationship – with themselves or otherwise.

The author also wrote about how being single for her, meant living a life defined by a prolonged absence of touch and she explained how long periods of time without contact – intimate or otherwise – can have a profound effect on an individual’s sense of self.

I have been thinking about this a lot since moving to Halifax because I often think about how much I miss touching Marc.

I wish I could feel his body beside mine in the cool silence of an early morning.  I miss holding his hand while walking down the street and the feeling of his fingers running through my hair when we’re driving in the car late at night.

I miss the solid comfort of his hand on the small of my back when guides me out of the way when we’re cooking together in the kitchen.

There are so many ways in which he and I make contact in our regular day to day; I’ve never before realized how important these little touch points are to me.

Some other things:

As previously mentioned, I have been reading a lot about Franklin and the Northwest Passage, especially in the wake of the discovery of the HMS Terror.

And I think I’ve become obsessed with scurvy.

Obsessed in the way that people become fascinated by serial killers, or the crusades, or other infinitely terrible things, and yet, I cannot help myself. The way the Dan Simmons describes this disease in his book is so unbelievably horrifying that it borders on the intoxicating. I cannot think of a more horrible way to die than to slowly and painfully waste away in the sub-arctic temperatures of the Canadian north, coated in my own frozen blood and sweat, my skin puffed and bloated, like putrefied pizza dough, punctuated and pixelated by my hemorrhaging bruises and festering boils.

How utterly, utterly wretched.

Scurvy has become a bit of a joke in our modern parlance. I used to say that in the absence of any fresh fruit in my life, coupled with the amount of penny candy I ate, that I wouldn’t make it to twenty without contracting the disease.

Now that I know that scurvy is so much more than just a few loose teeth, I am loathe to speak in such jest ever again.

Some last things:

I haven’t worn pants in the past six weeks. It’s been so beautiful and hot here in Halifax that my wardrobe has consisted solely of sundresses and skirts. On the odd night that the mercury has dipped below twenty degrees Celsius, I have conceded to nothing more than a pair of patterned leggings.

I have been practicing piano for minimum on hour every day. I am relearning all of my old royal conservatory grade 8 pieces. It really is extraordinary what your fingers and brain can remember, seventeen years out. My goal is to have three pieces memorized by the time that I leave. I also really need to work on my scales, because goodness knows when you’re not working on those every day your finger work grows shoddy indeed.

I am going to move to Shetland. Become a sheep farmer. And be happy.

Always best to start at the beginning

The day after leaving Berlin, we spent a day sailing the Baltic sea.

We were knackered from the first three days of travelling and didn’t wake up until 10 AM. This was a welcome surprise, as it meant I was freed from roaming the ship like a homeless vagabond simply waiting for the sun to rise (and the gym to open.)

That afternoon, I ran and mum practiced yoga and then we met up with our trivia team for another hour of putting all of our strange and extraneous knowledge to good use.

I almost keeled over with laughter as we tried to figure out what animal is thought to represent long life in Korea.

When my mum suggested the duck I knew I was a total goner. Frank from New Jersey, known already for his serious side eye, nearly knocked over his beer. Good thing for gentle Queenslander Wendy, who quickly suggested that it might be the bear.

Turns out that it was the deer all along.

Afterwards, we returned to our room and laughed ourselves silly sharing hilarious stories, including a real doozy from Bath, New Brunswick, wherein on the way to a New Year’s Eve dance at the legion in Woodstock, NB (Bath being too small to have a legion of its own) both my mum’s boots and stockings melted all over her legs, coagulating into one gooey, goopy super pant.

As my mum put it: “Buddy’s heat in his car was all messed up. I kept telling him that I was cold so he kept turning it up. Turns out, he turned it up a little too high. I got out of the car and I had these big, big holes in my pantyhose and this goo all over my legs. I had to take them off and was left with nothing but my melting boots. That guy really liked me too. He kept telling Noreen that he was thrilled to be with me. All I wanted to do was get away from him. He was supposed to be the coolest dude because he had this stupid damn car. I didn’t care at all.”

I am actually crying with laughter just writing this down. Also, should you ever want to know why I am the way that I am, it’s because of this story. Period.

We capped off the day with dinner out on the terrace, drinking white wine and talking with the sommelier, who is a dead ringer for Novak Djokovic – just with better glasses. I am, of course, completely biased, but hey, they were good, good glasses.

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As we snuggled down to sleep, we watched Iceland go up one goal over England, and I swear to goodness, even this far out from the island, I could swear we heard that entire country lose its collective mind.

Alas, that night I was back to the insomnia, and was up at both 1 AM and 4:45 AM. Standing at the rail of our balcony, I let the Baltic wind blow through my hair. Let it whip through my clothes. Let it rip through me, and into my bones.

I watched as the colours of the heavens shifted and blurred; magentas bleeding into royal blues; the yellow of a daisy’s eye; a blossom pink.

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In the silence, everything softens. Everything cools.

Night rolls on, but the light.

It persists.

By 5 AM, the sun was wide awake, breaking through three layers of curtains into our room.

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I again crept outside, and watched it burn a path across the morning seascape.

I have wanted to go to Riga since reading Henning Mankell’s The Dogs of Riga when I was 19 and in my second year of my undergrad. I was taking a Northern European film and literature class and it was the last book on my class syllabus. That year I had read 92 pieces of literature (books, novellas, plays, graphic novels – just for school alone), and by the end of the semester I was burnt out.

The Dogs of Riga was sitting on my bookshelf and I was debating whether or not I would be able to get through the course without cracking it open.

One night, instead of writing a paper of his own, Marc read the entire thing in one sitting. The next morning, the first thing he said to me was, “Babe you really need to read this book.”

And so I did. Also over the course of one day.

It was that book that set off a twelve-year love affair with Mankell. I read, and re-read every Kurt Wallender crime novel, and most of his other fiction.  It was the catalyst for this trip. It is what is taking my mum and I around Northern Europe and into the Russian motherland, as I had passed on my love (and my collection of dog eared paperbacks) to her the last summer I lived in Halifax.

So today we adventured around Riga. We learned about the city and its history, marvelling at the incredible architecture of the new town, and the warmth and magnificence of the old town.

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Did you know that that legend behind Riga’s flag is that in the thirteenth century there was a mortally wounded Lavian warrior who was wrapped in a white sheet? The part of the sheet on which he was lying remained white, but the two edges were stained in his blood. During the next battle his soldiers used the bloodstained sheet as a flag.

The country has been occupied by the Swedes, Germans, Russians (Russian empire) and Soviets (USSR).

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In the fourteenth century, Swedish soldiers hated having to walk from their barracks to the beer brewing district, so they raised money to cut a gate into the city’s walls which would allow them easy access from their homes to the streets of beer.

In 1991, as the country was fighting for its independence, and Soviet tanks were rolling into the old town, the TV station fell, but the radio building stood strong.

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The Russian orthodox church that stands in the city’s Esplanade was a planetarium under Soviet rule.

The building that once housed the Soviet agriculture institute was my favourite thing from the entire day, and is today the Latvian Academy of Sciences.

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We visited the market, and the national opera house, and the museum, and the outdoor market, and the independence monument. We had a delicious lunch in an outdoor square and basked in the late afternoon sunlight as we walked back to the ship.

I would very much like to return to Riga. To meet more of its multilingual inhabitants and learn more of its fascinating history.

Because this city is in my heart.

And its beat is strong.

If music be the food of love

Oh hi.

I haven’t written in about six thousand years, and for this I apologize. Profusely.

Please know that as per my other absences of significant length, this here blog was never far from my mind, and in truth I was often struck by ideas and stories that I wished desperately to share, but I just never seemed to be able to glean enough time to just sit down and write.

Over the past three months I have started a new job, run a few races, recorded some radio shows, bicycled many, many kilometers, and repeatedly told myself whilst looking in a mirror “HOLY HELL I REALLY NEED TO DYE THESE ROOTS.”

(Still haven’t done anything about that last item, alas.)

Anyways, what I really want to expand upon at this moment has nothing to do with my brunette self valiantly battling against my bottled blond, and everything to do with music.

Namely, the world-transcending, soul-shaking music that makes us weak-kneed, and wet-eyed. The music that stops you dead in your tracks so that twenty years on you remember the exact moment when you first heard that song.

The music that seemed to save your life, or make your life, and the music that continually gives you life.

The music so perfect that it makes your heart ache with such a sweet melancholy you would swear it was magic.

That music.

A couple of weeks ago I read the awesome “We Oughta Know” by Andrea Warner. Part memoire, part music criticism, it looks at how four Canadian women (Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morisette, Celine Dion, and Shania Twain) dominated the cultural landscape between 1993-1997. It’s a wonderful read – poignant, smart, funny, and incredibly relatable.

For me, reading about Warner’s love for McLachlan was like looking into a mirror (and seeing less roots, and more my tortured fifteen year old self who found so much solace in Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.)

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I absolutely loved this album. (Just typing these words seems much too trite a way to sum up how much this collection of songs meant to me.)

Sarah spoke to me like no other artist could.

As a fervent feminist, who was unabashedly unashamed of my budding sexuality (in a world that heatedly contested both of these things) who was also taller, ganglier, and more pimply than an Ent Wife, this music made me feel sane.

It made me feel beautiful.

It make me feel sexy.

And it made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

This weekend Marc and I were up at his parent’s cabin on the Sunshine Coast. One of the best things about this place, besides the overwhelming beauty, tranquility, and perfection of the house and its surroundings, is its EPIC record collection.

We’re talking about music ranging from Nana Mouskouri, to the Rolling Stones, to Rod Stewart, to Swiss orchestral folk tunes, and everything else in between.

But the one record that I play the moment I get there (and then multiple times during our stay) is U2’s The Joshua Tree.

I swear on my life this may just be the best album ever recorded.

I feel like crying every time I hear the opening strains of Where the Streets Have No Name. It’s like an automated response buried deep inside of me.

Marc and I spoke at length about the ways in which music is now accessed – how different is in with social media, streaming, and downloading.

About how crazy it would have been to be a teenager in Ireland in the 80s; about what music would have been available, and how it would impact your life and on so many different levels (individually, social-politically, religiously, etc.)

Whereas today, with the internet, everything is available to everyone all of the time.

Gone is that magic of hearing that one song on the radio, and then going out and buying that album, or that tape, or that CD, and then having your mind blown as you discover all of the other tracks that you never even knew existed.

So much of the initial, magic sense of discovery is not only gone – but the mechanisms of it are no longer even in existence.

And I find that weirdly tragic.

The last time I was completely bowled over (soul-shakingly so) by band was when I had the insane opportunity to see Future Islands and Spoon perform at Malkin Bowl here in Vancouver.

Spoon has been one of my favourites (if not my favourite) band for a number of years, but I only really knew Future Islands peripherally.

Without waxing eloquently at lengthy (and sounding completely hyperbolic in my praise) they were hands down the best band I’ve ever seen in concert.

It wasn’t even because of their music – which was brilliant, and fun, and made me dance like a mad woman of the first order.

It was all because of Sam Herring’s insane stage presence.

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I have never in my life seen a performer give so much of himself on stage. Watching him was unlike anything I have ever witnessed. It was pure energy and love.

It was madness, and genius, and inspiring as hell.

The next morning I woke up and ran twenty-five kilometers because everything in my body was telling me to go out and partake in something similar. And I did the entire thing singing Seasons in my head. (Half-smiling and half almost-crying.)

(I realize I may have a problem with this crying thing. But I’m okay with it.)

There have been so many other times throughout my life where I have been struck dumb by some amazing song, or brilliant band, or with how intrinsically perfectly a tune has married itself to a life event or milestone.

And I take solace in knowing that this is not strange.

Because music is so much that which shapes our hearts.

It is what makes our love.

It is our heart.

It is love.

Not all of me

“And then it struck Oleg that Shulubin was not delirious, that he’d recognized him and was reminding him of their last conversation before the operation. He had said, “Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There’s something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of this universal spirit. Don’t you feel that?”

– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward

I read the majority of this book last week as I lay on the blindingly hot sands of Oahu’s Waikiki beach.

I feel almost ill at ease admitting this fact. As if my enjoyment of the book should be muted, having loved it in a land so starkly foreign from the places birthed in its pages.

But like so many great works, all it did was awake a thirst.

A desire.

To feel.

To need, and be needed.

To kiss that sublime.

And be.

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Tickling your fantasy

I used to be an incredible literature snob.

Until about the age of twenty-one, I would only read real books.

“Oh me?” I would snottily opine. I’m a real Dostoevsky, Dickens, Austen, and Grass kind of girl.”

I could never understand why my boyfriend – my brilliant, cerebral and completely badass boyfriend (who now happens to be my brilliant, cerebral and completely badass husband) – read so many graphic novels, and books with picture of trolls, and dwarfs, and dragons adorning their covers.

How could he be interested in such stuff?

And despite his best efforts, for the first three years of our courtship I staunchly refused to crack one open.

“Sorry,” I would say. “I’m just not into that stuff.”

“You really have no idea what you’re talking about,” he’d say. “But I’ll wear you down eventually.”

And wear me down he did.

My first “non-book” (oh how wrong was I!), was V for Vendetta by Alan Moore which blew my brain harder than anything that had come before it (and I seriously thought I could ever again undergo anything as soul-shaking as the time I first read Devils and Crime and Punishment.) Next came the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman which I inhaled in about a day and a half, and then Watchmen, and Preacher, and about every other comic series on which I could get my hands.

It took me a little longer still to get into “fantasy” and “science fiction” (oh how I now loathe our need to classify so much brilliant literature as such!), but I finally caved and picked up A Clash of Kings a few months after my twenty-second birthday.

And once again, I underwent a kind of mind-exploding madness.

How could George R. R. Martin write so seamlessly and brilliantly from one character to the next? How could he be so heartless and beautiful all at once? WHY WERE ALL OF THESE PEOPLE SO AWFUL?

After burning through the entire Ice and Fire series (in what was then it’s most current incarnation) it was GAME. ON. The floodgates were opened, and it was nothing but a steady, raucous and ever more passionate ride filled with Bradbury, and Asimov, and Heinlein, and Tolkein, and Guy Gavriel, Scott Card, and Neal Stevenson, and Susanna Clarke, and so many more (and more and more and more!)

And then, ladies and gentlemen, Marc introduced me to one of the most brilliant, gut-busting, world-creating satirists English literature has ever known.

He brought me the world of Terry Pratchett.

This man made me laugh, cry, think, pace, question, believe, and most of all read.

My goodness did I love to get lost in his worlds and read!

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To this day, I always know when Marc is (re-)reading a Pratchett book because of the sonorous laughs that all but explode out of him.

He’ll then read the offending passage aloud and we’ll both cry-laugh together. More often than not, we’ll just end up reading entire sections of the book to one another.

These truly are some of my most treasured literary memories.

And so when I found out last Thursday that Mr. Pratchett had died (via Guardian update from my mobile phone) I immediately phoned Marc to tell him the news.

I couldn’t even finish my sentence before collapsing into my tears. I sobbed straight into the receiver, my whole body wracked by a terrible, melancholy palsy.

And then, in the most Pratchett-ian of fashions, I was immediately catapulted back to laughter.

Marc, speaking slowly into the receiver, said, “This – this makes me really, really sad babe. But – unfortunately I have to go. The arborists are here.”

Because, of course, we were having the dead cherry tree removed from our backyard, and yes, at 8:13am on a Thursday morning, the arborists had arrived to facilitate that removal.

I immediately burst out laughing, even though my tears kept streaming steadily down my face.

I cried for the better part of the entire day, and I really don’t think I’ll ever get over the loss of such a brilliant, kind, compassionate, passionate, and life-changing man.

But I know that I, like the world, am so much better off for opening my mind, heart, and soul to his beautiful works, and the zany, madcap brilliance of Ankh-Morpork.

And like Marc before me, I’ll continue to encourage people to read his works.

So that they too might laugh. And cry.

But really mostly laugh. And laugh. And laugh.