Dear Momma: Here’s what happened in 2018

Hi Momma.

I know we talk a lot, but I wanted to take some time to lay out everything that’s happened since the beginning of March. It’s been such a busy, heartbreaking, extraordinary time.

Most mornings I wake up and forget that you’re not here.

Sometimes you’ll have visited me in my dreams – your way of stopping by and saying hello. I get glimpses of your life in New York or you’ll tell me about the old classmates of yours that you’ve decided to haunt.

I see your smile and hear your laugh and I when I touch you, it’s real.

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Momma, I feel like I could pull you back into life.

Your magic, it burns brightly, everywhere.

You died on Thursday, March 8th. International Women’s Day.

I was holding your hand while Suzan Maclean held the other. I think that she, like me, doesn’t really believe in a world without you.

The day I flew back home, I took a lot of your clothes. I took your light blue jean jacket and your tight black pants. That striped heart sweater that you bought in Brooklyn and your gray crop-top turtleneck.

A few of your sweaters still smell like you. Sometimes I hold them and breathe deeply.

Because I wear your clothes every day, all of my friends are obsessed with your style.

Many of them also have your postcard pinned up in their offices. They tell me that you inspire them to take risks, to wear colour, to try something new.

Hearing this and writing this makes me cry.

In April I joined a gym to learn how to get strong. You would have laughed because when I went in for my assessment, I couldn’t even do one squat. But working slowly and intentionally with my trainer Jules I have developed a new-found respect and appreciation for my body.

And I am getting strong.

Last week I deadlifted ninety kilograms. That’s one hundred and ninety-eight pounds! I know you’re probably thinking, “I just got her to stop running marathons through the mountains, and now she’s doing this?”

But you know that it’s your spirit that drives me.

Thanks for that Momma.

I am sorry to say that I’m still not doing yoga but I do keep your beautiful bag in my office so that I see it every day. When I do start a regular practice, you will, of course, be the first to know.

I’ve started seeing a wonderful grief counsellor who has helped and continues to help me so much. I was seeing her every week and now go about once a month. I also have an amazing “grief community” here in New West, made up beautiful, strong and inspiring women.

You would love every one of them.

They are often who I call when I’m can’t drive because I’m crying too hard, or when I’m paralyzed by grief in some grocery breakfast aisle, or when just the thought of living in this world without you is too overwhelming for words.

Their love helps me.

So does that of my friends. And of Kate and Jessi. Marc.

They all hold me close when all of my pieces are breaking apart.

I cry almost every day.

I hope this doesn’t make you sad. Because I know that the only reason it hurts this much is because of the depth and the beauty of our love.

I think a lot about this when I run. There is a tree down at the river boardwalk here in New Westminster that I call “The Momma Tree”. It reminds me so much of you because of its vibrant colours and delicate leaves. Every time I run by it, I whisper a hello to you and high-five your branches.

Your magic, it burns brightly, everywhere.

This November I ran the Fall Classic 10k and placed ninth. It was one of the harder races I’ve run because I had just had gum surgery two weeks prior and couldn’t exercise at all in the lead up, because it might disturb my graft and slow my recovery.

Not to point fingers, but this gum recession is definitely genetic and it’s definitely from your side of the family.

At first I was so disappointed and I cried at the finish line. I’ve been chasing the elusive sub-40 time for so long and I felt so tired of trying and failing. But Marc held me and helped me.

I know you’ve always loved how delicate he is with me.

Here are some other things that have happened this year, so much with our strength and love:

  • In May, I attended my first New Westminster Community and Social Issues Council Committee meeting. That same month I also started working on my first municipal political campaign, helping my incredible friend Nadine Nakagawa get elected to city council.
  • In June, I presented at Pecha Kucha and spoke about you and grief and love and compassion. Marc and I celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary.
  • In July, I filmed my favourite story of the year at the Sharing Farm in Richmond. In total this year, I wrote over 70 stories for United Way and shot 15 videos.
  • In August, we welcomed beautiful Loic Stewart to the world, and I have loved every moment of being his aunty. I pour love into him. Just like you did with us.
  • In September, I joined the New Westminster Hospice Society’s board of directors. I was the first woman up Grouse Mountain for United Way’s Tech Grind, even though I couldn’t officially compete. (Yes Momma, I am that competitive.) I hosted a fun night of improv with a local feminist collective, MCed a wedding with twelve hours notice and managed to take another selfie with my mayor and council after presenting about United Way Day.
  • In October, I moderated the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce’s All Candidates Debate which was exhilarating and if there is just one thing I wish I could have had you there for, this was it. I started my Compassionate City Crew training with New West Hospice and hosted a very fun Halloween dinner party. You would have loved Marc’s and my costume – I was a lawyer and he was the devil, so we were The Devil’s Advocate.
  • In November, I took a stand against racism in my city, attended the annual civic dinner, completed my hospice training, moderated a panel on brand building and philanthropy, shared a story at The Flame about my absurd decision to get eyelash extensions and hiked around Whistler with Marc for our anniversary.
  • This month there are story performances and holiday get-togethers and both Kate and Jessi are making your gingerbread and I can’t stop crying whenever I sing along to the Barra MacNeils’ Christmas albums.

Just know that I think about you every day. I miss you every day. I see you in a soft rose gold sunset. In the wind that blows the hair from my face. In my dark roots that always grow in no matter how often I dye my hair blond.

You’re the blood in my veins, the green in my eyes. My smile. My laugh. My long legs and cold hands.

Momma, I carry you close.

And I will never stop missing you.

I wrote you this letter even though I know you know all of this.

Because you’re in the sky.

Sea. Land.

Air.

Mommm. Momma. Momma.

You and your magic are everywhere.

Farewell to Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is new Scotland.

It is my Scotland.

Nova Scotia is a dark and stormy coast that births brave and beautiful people who dance and sing and make music that is perfect and pure.

Halifax is that feeling in your heart. That ache and crest. That inconceivable rush when you kiss someone for the first time and everything is unfettered and flushed and on fire and you haven’t a breath in your body.

Halifax is wishing to live in that moment forever.

Halifax is the biggest sky you’ve ever seen. It’s a blue that burns.

Halifax is your neighbour practicing their bagpipes at 8 AM on a Saturday morning. It is a farmers market selling Annapolis Valley cider and hand-knit socks.

It’s riding your bike through The Commons, just before sunset, and marveling at a world bathed in a rose gold glow. For a moment, everything pauses. For a moment, the world collectively releases its breath.

Halifax is, for a moment, letting yourself go.

Halifax is walking along the waterfront, wind-battered and rattled, wondering what the winter will bring. It’s wondering how anyone could live through this.

Halifax is living through this.

Halifax is running and running and running and realizing that no matter how hard you try, you cannot outrun everything.

Halifax is letting your hair grow and your nails heal. It’s three months of restless sleep and restless nights and tears of such surprising heartbreak that, no matter what, you are never ready.

Halifax is getting caught off guard. It’s letting yourself get caught off guard.

Halifax is a city built on folklore and myth, sea shanties and Stan Rogers.

Its days are fueled by harbour hopping tourists and university students.

The Rotary. The Arm. The Waeg. The Coast.

It’s the ego of knowing that Nova Scotia is the best maritime province, but never saying that it’s the best maritime province.

It’s a night that stretches, wraps its arms snug around your shoulders, warming you with a laughter unlike one you’ve ever known.

It’s laughing until you cannot laugh. Doubled over by bad dates and mingled fates. Staring at the gallows of death and disease, and daring them to try.

It’s a love that transcends continents and causeways.

It’s a love that cascades.

Halifax is family, sitting in a kitchen and talking.

Halifax is sitting in a kitchen. The indefinable comfort of sitting in a kitchen.

Halifax is a barbecue where one person starts singing, and then everyone starts singing.

Halifax is just knowing all of the words.

It’s Sonny’s Dream.  And Gillis Mountain. And The Whistling Rover.

It’s unironically loving Rita MacNeil.

Halifax is a city that quietly swallows you whole.

Nova Scotia makes your blood run a little hotter. Gives your legs a new strength.

It forces you to stop. To stare at a sky, and feel the limitless of a place that is haunted and vaunted, and never unnecessarily so.

There is magic here.

Nova Scotia is new Scotland.

It is my Scotland.

And though I am far away, on the briny ocean tossed, I know she heaves a sigh and a wish for me.

We do this thing. We open our hearts to the world around us.

I am crying tonight because Stuart McLean died today. He was 68 years old.

I don’t remember the first time I listened to the Vinyl Café. If I had to wager a guess, I would put myself somewhere between the ages of nine or ten. Growing up, the CBC was one of the few constants in my ever-chaotic world, and my mother and I would listen to its programming non-stop.

Careening from highland dancing competitions, to piano recitals, to badminton tournaments, we listened.

One of my most favourite memories is of driving back from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, together with my mum. I want to say that it’s Christmas, because we are listening to a Christmas story. But I remember the weather outside to be classic Maritime June: warm and wet.

It was a rain for the ages. Blanketing the world in a ceaseless, soft grey. A grey that stretched for as far as the eye could see. Fat drops breaking against the windshield, the radio turned loud to drown out the sweep-sweep-sweep of the hard-working wipers.

It may have just been a re-run.

But I can’t be sure.

The story that we were listening to followed the same trajectory of so many Dave and Morley tales: an innocuous start, a holiday to be celebrated. Plans that quickly turn into the absurd.

Dave never knowing when to say, enough. Mary Turlington, his long-suffering neighbour, frigid and uptight, ever suckered into giving him a second chance.

Upon being invited to Christmas dinner at the Turlington’s, Dave is so nervous that he eats Mary’s potpourri, thinking that it’s homemade chex mix.

It was at the point that he realized that he was, in fact, eating potpourri, that my mum and I laughed so hard that we had to pull over.

Sitting on the side of the highway, tears streaming from our eyes, my body, palsied. My mother screaming, “Oh noooooooooooooo!”

Her facial expression, equal parts horror and amusement, set me off all over again.

And we sat there, until the conclusion of the story.

I never, ever wanted that moment to end.

This past Christmas, as I lay recuperating from the flu of the century, reeling from cancellation of both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Marc wrapped our bodies in our biggest blanket, and we listened to Stuart’s Christmas stories for hours.

Dave cooks a turkey.

Morley and Dave’s first Christmas.

The year they tried to make it to Sidney, but got trapped in the snowstorm.

The winter pageant.

We listened, and we laughed, and we cried, and we laughed.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

We listened to tales of a family. A family that was both defined by,and shined together under simple truths: laughter, loss, and love.

Always love.

One summer, I was cleaning out our spare room. Deciding what tennis rackets to keep, re-reading my first year essays on Milton and Donne, wondering if I’d ever again wear my wedding shoes, I listened to Stuart.

He was reading from the Vinyl Café story exchange. Listeners would write in, and he and his editor would pick different stories to share at their live tapings.

The story that afternoon was about a young man who had joined a teenage musical theatre troupe in his small town home on Cape Breton Island. The group had worked on a production over the course of the summer. Staging would take place right before they went back to school.

The writer recounted how he immediately took a disliking to one of his fellow cast mates. His rival was everything he was not: good looking and cool, at ease with the women in the troupe, and excellent on stage.

But try as he might, he couldn’t stay angry. He soon realized that, as well as a wonderful actor, his rival made a wonderful friend, and they became very close over the next two months.

On the opening night of the performance, the entire cast found out that the writer’s friend had been killed in a car accident, along with his girlfriend. The performance was cancelled, and the whole town mourned.

I was so caught off guard by the tragic ending that I just melted to the floor.

I wailed.

And then Stuart’s musical guests – Madison Violet – began to play their song “Small of My Heart”, and I felt as though I might never be happy ever again.

Today, it’s one of my most favourite songs.

In grade twelve, I bought my favourite English teacher a copy of Vinyl Café Stories in an attempt to tell her how much she had meant to me – she as an incredibly caring educator to myself, a weird and anxious student, who was really trying to just figure it all out.

One night in our old house, I was cooking Marc and I a tofu stirfry, and we listened to the story where Dave and Morley accidentally destroy a cabin in the Laurentian mountains.

I laughed so hard that I burnt the rice. And then, like always, at the conclusion of the story, I burst into tears.

Because that is the magic of Stuart McLean.

His stories are truth and love and light and death and everything that exists in our hearts and our souls. They are small towns and big cities; they are the chords that we all hear, and they are the cords that bind us together.

That help us realize that heck, we’re not all that different.

And in today’s age, where division and fear and hate are king, Stuart’s passing is a huge loss.

So it must be up to us to carry on his legacy.

To tell our stories. To relish and revel in them.

Because stories are how we know how to live.

How to love.

They teach us every day, how to be.

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.