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.

I cannot wait to do this again

Today was a very good day.

I woke at 6 AM to the easy strains of my cellphone’s alarm and the cool darkness of an early east coast autumn.

Rufus and Simon – my mum’s two ragdoll cats – skittered into my room, eager to investigate my pre-dawn activities. Simon jumped on the bed and looked at me, his amber eyes still. Rufus mewled, rubbing his head against my leg.

I had laid out my race gear the night before – shirt, shorts, socks, bra, all stacked neatly on the chair in my bedroom.  As I crept downstairs, I was careful to avoid the creakiest stair. I made it to the spare bathroom on tiptoe, where I brushed my teeth and washed my face. The last thing I wanted to do was wake my mum as I prepared for the day.

I am particular about my pre-race routine.

Clothing, face, hair, coffee, food, water.

It doesn’t matter how far or important the race – I find great comfort in this ritual.

Together with my cousin David – who was also running the race – I ate a bagel with peanut butter and watched as the rising sun softly kissed our backyard trees, leaving their leaves aglow in a golden green.

When mum woke she joined us, and we sat and joked about all-natural nut butters.

Before we left, she took this great photo of Dave and I:

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As we drove out to the Musquodoboit Trailway, we listened to the CBC and shared with each other our favourite programs and hosts. We’re both big fans of As It Happens, This Is That, The Current and Day Six.

When we arrived, we picked up Dave’s race bib at the registration desk. Although the start line was splashed with sunshine, a tricky wind immediately cut through any lingering warmth we had carried with us from Dave’s truck.

For half an hour we joked and laughed and sipped water and used the porta-potties for the last time.

When the starting gun sounded, my feet were halfway numb.

I am always afraid of going out to fast. Time and again my need for speed has proven to be my Achilles’ heel, but today I decided to go for it.

And I’m glad that I did.

I ran a personal best of 41:03. I was the first woman and sixth overall.

I love running.

I love running purely and truly, and have written at length about this love.

But I also love to see others learn to love to run.

I love to see someone cross the finish line for the first time. See them marvel at their strength. Their resilience.

Revel in the depth of their heart.

In a brief moment, they are unrivaled amazement and awe.

Today was Dave’s first race, and he was extraordinary. When he first signed up he made a goal of finishing in less than one hour. He smashed that, completing the course in 58:18.

He told me prior to the start that he didn’t intend on doing any more races. This was pure bucket-list.

Less than one hour later?

I believe his words were something along the lines of, “I cannot wait to do that again.”

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Before heading home to Halifax, we stopped at Martinique Beach.

Today, this stretch of the eastern shore seemed to burn extra bright.

A horizon of the sweetest blue, speckled with fat clouds. The brilliant sun.

White sand. Dunes that danced.

A fall air that burned our lungs and stung our cheeks.

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And in that moment, I forgot everything: I forgot uncertainty and fear. I forgot that life can be unfairly underpinned by sickness and a suffocating sense of helplessness.

I forgot distance and longing.

I felt the sun.

And I thought: I cannot wait to do this again.

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.