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.

They come in threes

Chapter 1

So remember last weekend, when I wrote about running in Lynn Park and how I almost destroyed myself over the course of my route?

Well, today it actually happened. I absolutely rocked myself about seven kilometers into a twelve kilometer run.

I was careening along a long, gravel straightaway and stubbed my right foot on the tip of an unseen rock. From this point, I launched myself right into a baseball slide (arms first), straight across the pathway.

Exhibit A:

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Exhibit B:

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I hate falling.

For all of the usual reason, yes: it hurts, it’s embarrassing, it totally messes up your plans, and it makes bathing and clothing yourself equal parts excruciating and ridiculous for days on end.

But what I hate the most about falling is that strange nebulous time frame between the actual trip, and the moment you make contact with the ground. Your conscious, rational self knows that a connection with the earth is imminent, and yet, you still try to think of all of the ways you could stop it from happening. And then, right before impact, you resign yourself to your fate, and brace for the carnage.

After coming to a complete rest, I always try give myself a moment to take stock and check for bad cuts and injuries before getting to my feet, because I always just want to keep running and get away from the crash site as quickly as possible. Today, my adrenaline was going like crazy, and it’s at times like this that I have to be particularly careful not to start again too quickly.

I was also pretty angry with myself for making such a simple mistake, and my gut reaction was to beat it out of there and just get on with completing my run. But noticing a large stream of blood pooling in the palm of my left hand, I thought it better to be safe than sorry, so I ran back to the park’s entrance and washed my wounds at one of the water stations.

A small part of me contemplated just running back to my car and heading home, but most of me couldn’t fathom not finishing what I had set out to accomplish. So, with my cuts stinging like crazy from the antiseptic handfoam I got from the closest outhouse, I ran back to the route and finished.

It wasn’t until I was actually driving home that the extent of my cuts and scrapes really came to the fore. They stung. Stung like mad.

I made a quick pit stop at London Drugs to stock up on Epsom salts and Haribo, and upon my arrival at home, booked it straight into the bathtub.

For the next hour I sat, soaking my wounds, eating candy and listening to Hari Kondabolu stand-up shows.

Not the worst way to spend a Sunday morning, but good grief, next time I’ll elect to do it without having to gently scrape the dirt from my bleeding elbows.

(That’s more of a Tuesday morning chore.)

Chapter 2

Everyone has silly little things that made them smile. For instance, I love recognizing Vancouver in movies and television shows. I always get butterflies when people address me by name in conversation – whether face to face, over the telephone, or via text. And I will always, always love a song that has some kind of hand-clap section or chorus.

It’s an inevitable truth of life, and there is nothing to be done. I have resigned myself to this fate.

So you can of course understand why I currently have this song on constant repeat, much to the chagrin of every human within earshot of my musical devices.

I just cannot help it. It’s so darn catchy and it just makes me want to dance about the world, nonstop forever.

(My cat, unfortunately, was very unimpressed by this yesterday, and staunchly refused to join in.)

Some others that I enjoy:

Where It’s At (Beck)

Beck was one of my very first music loves. I asked for, and received Mellow Gold for my 11th birthday but I loved Odelay even more, because of this song.

Cecelia (Simon and Garfunkel)

It is always, always summer whenever I hear this opening refrain.

Women’s Realm (Belle and Sebastian)

This band. Goodness, this band.

Chapter 3

I have a recurring dream – or nightmare, I suppose – where I am caught outside wearing nothing but a t-shirt.

No underwear. No shoes. Nothing.

It’s just me, my t-shirt, and the elements. I find myself rooted to the ground in a busy town square or being jostled about by the teeming crowd of an emptying lecture hall. It’s the weirdest experience, trying desperately to both cover myself and creep away without anyone noticing.

What’s even weirder is that it’s exactly the same – the panic, the fear, the discomfort – every time.

I don’t dream this dream as often as the one where all of my teeth are falling out, nor do I find it as terrifying as the one where I am two seconds away from falling off of the chair lift, but nevertheless, it has firmly ensconced itself into my personal narrative and never fails to leave me shaken up.

Because, let’s face it. Nudity is a pretty weird thing.

But the fact that we clothe ourselves all of the time, even when we are alone, can seem equally as weird. Knowing that we are all just a bunch of penises and vaginas, cleverly hidden away, traipsing about the planet is an idea I rarely give time to, but find utterly bizarre when I do.

Sometimes when I was a pre-teen, I would take moments and try to visualize all of the adults, outside of my family, naked. I would try to imagine them having sex, or being “sexy”.

It was both strange and hard, and the moment was always fleeting. (Insert joke here about the parallels between this exercise and the first time I found myself naked with a boy.)

I am not exactly sure that the answer is, nor what exactly it is that I am looking in terms of this dream, or my ideas on nakedness and nudity. I think, for me, the most important thing is identifying my hang-ups – hang-ups I am sure shared by many – around being nude, about being naked (literally and metaphorically), and the overall social expectations and politicization of what it means to be naked (also literally and metaphorically).

My friend Emma Cooper, who is a local comedian and artist has said that when comes to nudity, “Men are not allowed to be vulnerable, and women are not allowed to be sexual.”

Whenever I think about this statement it hits me like a sack of bricks, and is an idea that I remain sensitive to, and cognizant of whenever it is that I find myself thinking about these things.

Now if only I had something to help me, during those moments of peak vulnerability, when I’m standing in that town square.

Epilogue

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Happy Sunday my little loves.

The feeling that you give me, wanna give it right back

Today I ran. I ran in the woods, far and deep, fast and free.

There is something so innately magical about running outside of the city. I always forget what a difference a forest canopy can make – to not only the strength of your strides, but the steadiness of your breath, the limberness of your limbs, and the sureness of your step. I don’t know how it happens, but I am always ten times the runner, the moment I step foot onto that trail.

Today I ran. Today I ran in Lynn Canyon, a beautiful park on Vancouver’s North Shore, a short eighteen-minute drive from my house on an early, sunny Sunday.

I woke to Nymeria, chittering away at a pair of crows who were loitering on a telephone wire, just outside of the sunroom window. Stealing out from under the covers, I made a break for the kitchen, leaving my better half snoozing away, ensconced in a dreamworld of his own. Once safely away from our sacred space of rest (I have been chastised many times for being too rowdy in the darkened morning hours), I made myself a cup of milky-sweet coffee and sat down to plan my route.

Lynn Park is such a perfect place for an outdoor adventure, because no matter what your skill level or desired workout, there is always a path for you.

When hiking I choose Lynn Peak, and when running I will complete 2 or 3 loops of Lynn Loop, alternating between clockwise and counter, each and every time.

In just two short weeks I am running a 15 kilometer trail race, but have only run one other trail this year. As such, I thought it best to keep today to two loops (11 kilometers total, beginning and ending at my parking spot).

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At the end of today’s stairmaster.

I have been running steadily since completing the BMO Marathon on May 1, but I’ve been keeping the distances relatively short and haven’t run farther than 17 kilometers – and all on road.

Trail running is such a different beast from its concrete-driven alternative. The immediate elevation gains and losses; wet roots that cut up your path; loose rock and rogue ruts; slick stairs and deeper-than-they-look puddles – it’s a veritable minefield out there and one can never underestimate the importance of remaining mentally sharp.

Case in point: I nearly blew out my right ankle at both the very start of my run today, and the very end. The first incident occurred when I came careening around the corner at the start of the loop and jumped out of the way to avoid stampeding an older walker and her dog. I landed on a large, loose rock, and my foot immediately gave way to the right. Luckily I have some strong and dexterous ankles, and I continued up the trail uninjured (although extra-vigilant for the next bit of the run.)

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Fog and sun, today.

The second incident happened right at the end of the second loop. I was absolutely bombing down the trail and encountered a family full to the hilt with children and various child-related detritus. In my bid to get out of their way, I slid, again, onto my right ankle, but my momentum carried me through and I escaped unscathed.

I really like these moments. They get my heart pumping and really force me to take stock of what it is I am doing, and what I need to focus on to both keep up my speed and stave off my complete destruction.

But what I think what I love the most about trail running is how unencumbered I am.

How I feel like I could keep moving up and on, forever.

Today I thought a lot about music – about (hopefully) seeing the Tragically Hip in July, and about the magic that was Future Islands and Spoon exactly one year ago today. I thought about how much of Tegan and Sarah’s new music makes me feel like a heartsick fifteen-year-old, and how nostalgia wrecks havoc on us all, no matter what our age. I also debated back and forth on whether or not when I write it’s the music that influences my words, or if the act of articulating thoughts somehow infuses the music with deeper meaning.

(My conclusions were inconclusive.)

I thought about my beautiful sisters who live so far away. About my mum, and how in less than one month we will be adventuring around the North of Europe, leaving our distinct brand of Canadian wit, charm, and madness on the cities we will visit.

I thought about the Olympics, and municipal politics, and Brexit, and how I was going to weed my garden when I got home.

I also cried, but not because I was sad, or happy, or even because I was actually crying. My tears streamed unselfconsciously, quietly, and unannounced. They were born from the beauty and quiet of these moments.

Running is sublime because of both its simplicity and perfection. Sometimes, the warmth of the knowledge that everything in my body and soul was made to do this, and only this, is almost too exquisite to bear.

People think that distance athletes are weird, or narcissistic, or masochistic (or maybe they think we are a combination of all three, and hey, maybe we are) but I wish that everyone could know this splendour. I wish everyone could know the richness of this moment.

Of knowing that you can fly.

Who’s the boss?

Picture the summer of 2005.

Where were you? What were you doing? What were your passions? Your obsessions?

Who did you love?

Who did you love?

I was twenty years old, fresh out of my second year of university, and living in Halifax.

Marc and I had been dating (and living together) for just under two years. Knowing that I would be spending the next four months across the country away from the small little home we were building together had left me heartbroken. Although looking back, I am confident that on some subconscious level we both knew that it was these long stretches of time apart that was keeping our young love alive.

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Having just applied to (and been accepted by) the Creative Writing program at UBC, I felt like my whole life was falling into place.

I was reading everything I could get my hands on, exercising too much, and working two fantastic jobs.

The first was at a fair-trade coffee shop where I made adequate espressos and sold delicious pakoras. The second was at a local bar where I worked the door Wednesday through Saturday nights. Basically my job was to flirt or strike up conversations with individuals as they entered the establishment, in the hopes of convincing them that they really did want to pay the cover charge, when really they probably just wanted a drink or dinner. My take-home was determined by how many people I got through the door.

And I was really, really good at this job.

Can you imagine? I was getting paid to talk to people and listen to great music. It was my dream job, incarnate.

I witnessed a lot of really weird things during those four months. There was the man who unscrewed the light bulb from the fixture over his table, placed the bulb in his briefcase, and then lit up the giant candle he had brought from home.

A man once tried to pay me to steal one of the bar’s paintings for him, and even left a twenty dollar “deposit” wrapped around the stem of the white wine glass he had ordered for me on his way out the door.

A young man once careened in the bar and breathlessly asked if he could hide out in our restrooms. After about half an hour he emerged, only to tell me that he had been evading two bike cops who had caught him and his friends drinking up at the Citadel.

Gordie Sampson hit on my underage sister, and I learned that Gordie Sampson is a tool.

I also saw some of the most incredible live performances from some of the East Coast’s most wonderful performers.

Ron Hynes played a beautiful, intimate set, and everyone in the bar sang along to Sonny’s Dream. When he died last year I cried remembering the magic of that evening.

Jeff Goodspeed was always a treat and the week that we played home to the Halifax Jazz Festival’s “late-night venue”, the proverbial roof was blown away each and every night.

But my most favourite part of working this job was Wednesday nights.

Because Wednesday nights meant Matt Andersen.

And Matt Andersen always meant a huge crowd of people who really, really wanted to pay the five-dollar cover.

But even better than that, Matt Andersen meant the most beautiful blues.

I would have worked at that bar for free as long as it meant that I was allowed to sit there for three hours and listen to him play.

Every night, during his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’, I would walk over to the end of the bar and lean against one of the pillars that framed the entrance to the dining room. Just closing my eyes now, I can remember so clearly how the music would wash over me.

Run through me.

How the hairs on my arms would stand on end, and my eyes would tear up, and how part of me wanted that moment to last forever but how the other feared that if it did my little heart might crack in two.

Matt was also a gentle giant, who would pick me up and drive me to the bar if he’d see me walking on my way downtown. He would ask me about the books that I was reading and the subjects that I was studying in school.

It never occurred to me to stop and think how that summer was real life (and not the undergraduate make-believe in which I was firmly ensconced). Now I wish I had the foresight to tell Matt how much I loved his music and made the effort to stay in touch.

Tonight my parents-in-law are at Matt’s concert at the Vogue downtown. Marc and I bought them tickets for Christmas and I am so incredibly excited for them to experience his music for the first time. I can only imagine what an amazing show it will be.

For me – I am wrapped in warm blankets and sipping tea, listening to Youtube compilations remembering those make-believe days and warm summer nights.

And I hope I can introduce you to Matt.

And that you will love him. Wednesday nights, and every night.