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.

If I had a wish I’d wish for more of this

Do you remember that moment when you realized music was more than just music?

Can you pinpoint that infinitesimal, and yet life-changing moment, when art was no longer just a picture on a wall?

When you understood that stories make worlds, and break worlds?

That second when they first made your heart, and then ripped it in two?

When did you last love someone?

When did you last feel most alive?

This weekend I came second in a 10k race held at Shubie Park over in Dartmouth. I was sixth overall to finish in a time of 41:56. Although this was considerably slower than my last race, I can chalk it up to three things: the thick web of phlegm in my lungs; the hilly course; and the wind.

That morning the entire city was battered by a cruel and vengeful Aeolus.

I felt blown about. Like a whisper, half heard in the fall air.

But it didn’t matter.

For a while now, running has been the only that has made me feel truly alive.

Sometimes, I fear that I’ve become a shadow – a poor replica, forever lost in a back-lit cave.

But when I run, I am a shadow with a shadow.

I am real.

I am alive and I am okay.

Running reminds me that it’s not just a matter of being alive and being okay; it’s about taking every single thing that makes you alive and okay – the things that make your fingers itch and your heart ache and your knees weak and your arms shake – and saying: I see.

I see and I know and I love.

It reminds me of the stories and art and music that build my word.

That build my love.

And it reminds me that I can build worlds.

That I can build love, too.

 

 

Stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you

Let’s write a story. Together.

Let’s start with the idea of an environment and a technology.

Something unimaginably old that people use every day, but aren’t too concerned about it when they do.

Hmmm.

What else is tied to our perception of reality?

Politics, perhaps – but could our fascination with bureaucratization be enough to facilitate a lapse in our technology? Or at least enough to sustain our plot?

Perhaps a decline is not what we’re looking for. Instead: stagnation.

Apathy.

Contentment.

What would make our culture reach a point where it would say: “Enough. This is good enough.”

(I’m sometimes afraid we’ve already reached this point.)

It would have to be a world where making technology no longer was a priority because it no longer made money. In order for it to no longer be fiscally feasible, it would have to be ubiquitous – or nearly so.

So it would have to be homemade, as well as an incentive for people to make it themselves, rather than just having someone else make it for them.

And maybe we personalize it.

SO. What are we thinking here? We’re thinking of an extremely easy level of technology, right up there with, say, cooking.

This suggests something that is organic – because too many people are unskilled to create something mechanical.

Organic is easy.

Okay. So where does that leave us? Recap: An organic technology that has been spread throughout all cultures, has superseded all other forms of technology that garner the most money, and has brought an unprecedented equality (or perceived equality) across the boundaries of human experience, reducing social stratification and nationalistic feeling.

Holy crap. Let’s do this thing!

Onwards.

This organic technology would have to be something that allowed people to connect to other people. It would also have to be capable of communicating pain and pleasure equally – because pain is the incentive for people to like things, right?

Or is that the absence of pain?

Depends on the person I suppose.

Now what else?

Does it have to be one thing, or can it be a number of things? And what about conflict? Are we looking at the need to encounter another species?

Hold the phone. ARE WE TALKING GALACTIC WAR? Because that idea is old, and already perfected in Ender’s Game.

So.

So how to make it new again?

Could this technology take people somewhere else? Because if the only place they can go is into their own minds, that was done in The Matrix. If it takes us into another plane, which abandons earth, that might make it less relevant again – for both our readers and our characters.

And then people would be clamouring for galactic war.

And this is not Starship Troopers. (And Starship Troopers is already the best there is.)

This has to be a story about us, not somewhere else.

That is what will make it relevant.

That is what will make it ours.

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.