Wherever you go, there you are

For the last week, I’ve been travelling through what I hope will be my future home province someday. I arrived with great hope and expectation about what I might discover, and nervousness that I wouldn’t discover anything at all. I was so thrilled to have an epiphany early on about what to do with my career that I started to think I could just relax on this trip, assuming everything was going to go well and life would all start to sort itself out into a state of clarity.

I spent 3 nights in a small town, renting a room in the home of a man the same age as me. We ended up spending a lot of time together as he showed me around town, took me on hikes and we stayed up late into the night sharing life stories. He talked about wanting to take me on his motorcycle someday, wanting to show me so many more things in the future, and about how his mother would be surprised to learn he’s dating again. By the time I was leaving, we were holding hands in the car and kissing goodbye. I didn’t think I was personally investing too much, it just felt nice to be connecting with someone in that way after what has felt like a long time of being single.

Of course now, two nights later, I just feel profound loss. In the light of day, I see how he is too much like every emotionally unavailable, narcissistic guy I’ve been involved with in the past. I see how I let myself get caught up in a ‘relationship’ for no reason other than it felt nice not to be alone. I see that everything he said and did was self-serving and insincere.

I thought I had left these old patterns behind and yet here they are, following me halfway across the country reminding me that wherever I go, there I’ll be. There I’ll be with all my history, all my old wounds that are still healing, all my vulnerability and weakness and fear. Just when I think I’ve left them all behind, there they are.

Man, what a crappy discovery to have on vacation.

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Belonging

When I was in Europe in April, I fell into a personal crisis.

It began at my work retreat in Angers, France. We were coached on how to walk a labyrinth – take a quiet moment before entering, clear your thoughts, and let your truths reveal themselves to you as you walk slowly through the path. With each step, I wept – sobbed – as the words “I don’t belong” kept coming up, over and over again. I didn’t know what they meant or why they were so adamant about being heard, but I do know that it was the beginning of an unprecedented physical stress response that resulted in me being sick, in pain and very medicated for the remainder of the trip. It was undeniable that something really big and important was trying to make itself known to me.

Since that time, I’ve been struggling to understand what belonging means to me, and why it feels like something I urgently need to address. I know that it has something to do with my work – I’ve come to accept that I absolutely do not belong in my workplace, and that I need to make a move. I know that it also has something to do with where I live.

So, after an incredibly difficult several months, I’m now on a two-week trip in British Columbia checking out towns, looking for a new place I’ll be able to someday call home. My hope for this trip was to get some kind of hint about what my next steps should be; some kind of clarity about something, anything, as long as it would bring me a step ahead of where I’d been before the trip.

And then today, on day two of my trip, I had an epiphany on the drive from Chilliwack to Maple Ridge, a realization about what I need to do next in my career. It was such a deep and honest realization it literally brought me to tears, as I think it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time but subconsciously always felt was out of reach.

And today, on day two of my trip, after spending the morning driving through neighbourhoods looking at real estate listings, and after spending the afternoon hiking in Golden Ears Provincial Park, I was suddenly overcome in the most peaceful and calmest of ways with the unexpected gentle whisper of these precious words: “I belong.” They felt like warm sunshine in my heart.

I’m not sure yet how this will all unfold, but today I have great hope and joy that I am heading in the right direction.

bc me golden ears

Mark

As I pulled into the Starbucks parking lot, I couldn’t have been more surprised to see you. How long has it been – a year? two years? I still feel like I may have imagined it, the impossibility of the timing something I can’t seem to wrap my mind around.

I hadn’t thought of you in ages until earlier today, when Facebook suggested we might want to be friends. I thought fondly back to the brief time that we dated; to that ridiculous first date when I ended up weirdly asking you if you had to lose two limbs, which two limbs would you give up, and how amazed I was that you not only went with the conversation in good fun, but still wanted to go out again after that. Mostly I thought back to the incredible sexual chemistry we had; it had been a long time since I’d felt that charged by another person. In all honesty, it hasn’t happened with anyone since.

I tried to remember why I decided it wouldn’t – couldn’t – work with you. I remembered the way you looked at me sideways through your glasses, your eyes getting almost creepily wide, and how annoying I found that to be. I sighed at how petty that seems, now. But then I remembered how conversation so often needed to revolve around you and I thought, well, that’s not petty. That’s not petty at all.

Still, I’d clicked on your profile picture this morning and scrolled through your feed to see what you’d been up to since we’d last seen each other. (Who’s the creepy one now…?) I saw your nature photography, your running and cycling accomplishments, your kayaking adventure, your easy banter with friends, and I sighed again. You are in so many ways such a terrific guy. You were so close to being someone I could’ve loved.

I decided to go to Starbucks this afternoon to read, but the dog demanded a walk before I left. I amusingly thought to myself, ‘What if these few minutes make the difference between me meeting some great guy at Starbucks, or us just missing each other?’ The thought flitted through my mind before it rushed off, replaced by an army of other thoughts demanding my attention. I brought the dog home and decided as long as I had my shoes on, I may as well walk to get the mail. Another few minutes passed.

And then I finally made it to Starbucks and there you were, passing right outside my window, leaving the cafe just as my car was pulling in. You looked in my direction but past me, while I stared at you in disbelief. A few minutes earlier and we would have crossed paths in the store – you would have had to walk by me waiting in line to order as you made your way out. But now you just passed by, looking preoccupied.

When time unfroze I realized you were with another woman – brunette, like me. You looked uncomfortable, neither of you were smiling. Another first date, I guessed. It didn’t look like there had been much of a connection.

I wonder what you would have done or said if we had bumped into each other inside. I wonder if we would have had coffee, after your coffee date, and what would have come of it. I wonder if we would have decided to extend it beyond coffee. It felt like a fleeting Hollywood moment, full of possibility and ‘almost-was’, even as I remembered all the valid reasons why it didn’t and couldn’t work between us.

I’m not sure why today you unexpectedly came into my mind, and then into my view, but it made me smile, remembering the time we had together and knowing you’re still out there, not that far away as it turns out. You unknowingly brought a little adventure into my day, and inadvertently a little hope that maybe someday I’ll meet someone again who will rekindle that crazy excitement I’d briefly felt with you.

I guess all I’m trying to say is… it was good to see you again, Mark.

Embarking on a European Adventure

When I joined the social service agency I currently work for, I never could have imagined just a couple of short years later I would be preparing to head to Europe on what they call a pilgrimage. I’m not a religious person, so I struggle a bit with calling it a pilgrimage –  I prefer to think of it as connecting to the roots of the agency, roots that lie at least as much in feminism as they do in Catholicism.

Motherhouse1-1024x768Tomorrow I leave for 3 weeks, first spending 11 days in France learning about the history of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and the story of the fiery young woman in the 1800s who started it all. I’ll meet people from across the world who are all part of the global network of Good Shepherd agencies working to help vulnerable people in their own ways. I’m hoping for a lot of cool history, personal connection and reflection, and minimal God talk (fingers crossed). As an introvert, I’m a bit nervous about all the ‘people time’ on top of the exhaustion of jetlag, but I’m counting on my ipod and running shoes (and wine!) to help me get through it.

battloAfter France, I head off on a whirlwind solo adventure through Spain, Andorra, and Portugal. I’m excited to check off three new countries on my bucket list, marvel at Gaudi’s Seuss-meets-Tim-Burton architecture, hike in the Pyrenees, and sip port in Porto. I can’t wait to taste real European pastries again – it has been too long! – and have fresh baguettes and cheese in France (apparently a daily menu offering where we’re staying).

My ipod has been updated to include new-to-IMG_0136me music by Morrissey and Mindless Self Indulgence which are sure to provide an interesting soundtrack to my travels. I carry with me a new travel angel to keep me safe in light of the sporadic attacks in Europe, letters from coworkers to be opened when I need a hug from home, and a promise to send awkward photos taken with handsome locals at the special request of one of my staff. (I love how we all embrace and celebrate each others’ weirdness!)

Today, as always before leaving on a trip, I’m so anxious I have to keep reminding myself to breathe. But I think this trip is going to be full of awesome, potentially life-shifting moments that I will do my best to document on the go. I invite you to join me on my European adventure. Allons-y!

fanon quote

 

 

2016: Year in Review

To be honest, I feel a bit shell shocked by this year. Nevertheless, growth and progress come in many forms and now this year too has passed so, without further ado, here are my highlights (or perhaps more aptly named, key themes) of 2016:

1) Exploring the West: In the summer I took a 2-week solo trip to the Western US and Canada, starting with a 10k race in Oregon, moving on to rainforest hikes and ocean beach walks in Washington, mountain hiking in British Columbia, and horseback riding in the Alberta Rockies. Mid-trip I took a break in Nelson BC, staying with a friend for a few days, cementing what is becoming a soulful lifelong friendship. On this trip I discovered my strength and visceral need for connection with body and nature. Coming back from this trip, I started biking to work instead of driving and making day trips to Algonquin Park on long weekends for hiking with a view. I was embarking on an important and much-needed lifestyle shift.

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2) Exploring Love: After two years of purposeful singledom, I started dating again in the Spring, learning a little bit more about myself from each brief relationship. From a nice guy with no sexual chemistry, to an annoying guy with abundant sexual chemistry, to a wealthy guy with no self-reflection, to an unconventional guy with little empathy, I am gradually learning more about what I need, and refining and solidifying my dealbreakers. Whether or not I’ll ever meet a guy who will someday become my best friend is anyone’s guess, but I think there’s value and personal growth in the search.

img_20140419_1421443) Exploring Loss: On December 1, a dear friend of mine died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 63. I’ve never lost anyone close to me before, I had no idea how to even begin to process that she’s no longer in this world. I don’t think I’ve quite wrapped my head around it yet. And then on December 25, my childhood idol whose music I’d hung on to through my worst years of loneliness growing up, passed away suddenly at age 53. I’m surprised at how complicated my grief over George Michael’s passing has been. These two sudden losses at vastly different levels and degrees of proximity to my life have left me feeling very melancholic, and focused on the importance of living fully and immediately rather than perfectly.

img_20160810_1131544) Exploring Change: On my Western adventure, I came to realize that I experience myself and the world differently when I’m around mountains. In the mountains I feel like there is room for me in the world, and I feel like I can breathe in a way that eludes me in this flat congested landscape that I currently call home. I realized that I have unconsciously been travelling to mountains every chance I’ve gotten over the last few years since I started travelling alone, and I think I’m starting to understand why. I’ve now begun to lay the groundwork to make a big move in my life within the next couple of years which feels a bit scary but also exciting and very life-living.

So, those are the biggest themes/highlights of 2016. The only thing left to do now is choose the song of the year!

Song of the Year: 2016

It’s hard to choose this year’s song since 2016 has been so emotionally dichotomous for me. At various points I would have thought my selection would be one of my most-played Awolnation songs of the year – either “MF” or “Windows” – but I’ve decided it’s going to be an old Cage the Elephant song from 2013 that I just discovered a few months ago. As much as I love their newer release “Trouble”, this older song “Telescope” really represents my state of mind this year, ending with the important reminder: Time is like a leaf in the wind / Either it’s time worth spent or time I’ve wasted / Don’t waste it.

With that, I thank you for reading and wish you a happy, healthy 2017 full of love, peace and joy.

RIP George Michael

I george-michael-faithwas in that second wave of young girls who joined George’s fandom when he released Faith (as opposed to the first wave of girls who caught on during the Wham! years). I was an insecure, lonely girl whose family never talked about sex or feelings or anything at all for that matter. His overt sexuality was exciting and intriguing for me as I was still trying to understand what the heck sex actually was. And his deep sadness and longing for belonging resonated with me, though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that at the time.

George Michael provided the soundtrack and the backdrop for a good 10 years of my life. I was obsessed with owning every piece of music he’d ever released, as I hwham-in-chinaunted down 45″ singles for their B-side instrumental versions, relentlessly called in to obscure radio shows requesting elusive instrumental versions I hadn’t been able to hunt down anywhere, and special ordered t-shirts and the Wham! in China video on VHS that my mother had to drive to a far-away mall to pick up for me. I scoured magazines for even the tiniest mentions of George to see what he was up to and what he looked like “in real life.” In the days before the internet, it took real effort and persistence to be a hardcore fan. It was a labour of love.

My high school lockers were full of George Michael photos, my room was plastered in George posters, my binder was a George Michael binder. I wore a gold cross earring my girlfriends gave me for my birthday one year. When I got punished at home, my mother took away all my George Michael stuff – posters, cassettes, magazines, everything – and hid it, saying I’d have to earn it back one piece at a time. In that moment, I despised her with such rage that I suddenly understood how wars were started. I found where she had stashed everything and secretly made copies of all the tapes and smuggled out posters. Nothing was going to stand between me and my George Michael!

George Michael was my first concert ever, and when I heard that he’d named Elton John and Billy Joel as musical influences, I started listening to them too. He shaped my musical taste for years to come.

Sometime after Listen Without Prejudice, I lost track of George Michael. I had become a mother at age 18, life had gotten busy and he hadn’t released any new music for a while. When he finally did release a new CD, the music seemed really.. old? boring? I was a busy, energetic twenty-something, I couldn’t relate to his style at all anymore. And at some point I heard something about a lewd act. I didn’t really know what had happened but felt vaguely embarrassed as people smugly mocked my former fandom. Every June 25 I had a fleeting remembrance that it was his birthday, but otherwise he gradually faded out of my life.

And now he’s gone and I can’t seem to stop trying to fill ingeorge-and-anselmo the gap of everything I missed about his life over the last twenty years. I didn’t know his father had been so critical of him. I didn’t know he had been so conflicted about his sexuality and that his ‘lewd act’ had ultimately resulted in his coming out. I didn’t know he had fallen in love with a man who heartbreakingly ended up dying just a couple of years later. I didn’t know he’d fallen into deep depression after his mother died. I didn’t know he’d almost died of pneumonia a few years ago.

I didn’t know he was an addict. I imagine he couldn’t have been easy to live with, especially when you add his perfectionism on top of it. I also didn’t know he was such a generous humanitarian, anonymously donating to multiple charities and anonymously volunteering at a homeless shelter.

I’m learning all this about him and appreciating what a complex individual he was, full of struggle and hope and love. His messiness and imperfection are resonating deeply for me.

george-michael-olderI’m taking the time to discover his post-Listen Without Prejudice music and now that I’m older and more mellow, it doesn’t feel boring to me anymore. It’s beautiful in its pain. Life is hard, I feel that in his music. (The first time I heard his version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” a couple of days ago – posted below – it literally brought me to tears.) Maybe there is a reason for his music coming into my life again at this point,  maybe I wouldn’t have been ready for it sooner.

I feel a sense of loss and sadness that I wasn’t there for the whole ride, but I’m so incredibly grateful for everything George Michael has been and is going to be for me in my life. Despite his flaws and vices, he did good in the world and brought love to those around him, and I feel a weird sort of pride to have been his fan. The world – my world – doesn’t feel the same without him.

Rest in peace, George.

Trump and Crickets: The end of a relationship

“Bummer about Trump, eh!”

Those words marked the beginning of the end of my latest relationship.

I was still in shock, reeling from the news I’d woken up to at 4:45am – the news that overnight, the world had changed in a way that I naively never saw coming. I was still grasping to understand how this could have happened and what it meant to me, to vulnerable people in America, and to the world. I didn’t know how to make sense of it, I couldn’t find the words, but I knew “bummer” was not one of them.

Prior to that day, I had already been starting to struggle with my partner’s lack of awareness of his privilege, his lack of deep engagement in meaningful discussions, and his seemingly superficial, self-interested approach to life.

Just a few days earlier, in response to me sharing that I’m feeling a strong and urgent pull to figure out bigger ways that I can make positive change in the world, his response was: “Not everyone can be Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.” I countered that, in fact, there are lots of people – seemingly ordinary people – who make big and small important change in the world all the time, and gave him the example of the two college change-makers in the documentary The Hunting Ground, who found a way to force colleges to deal with sexual assaults on campus. But I knew it was a bad sign that instead of lifting me up, his immediate response was to try to pull me down ‘to reality.’

I knew it was a bad sign a few weeks earlier that, when he was telling me about his first volunteering shift playing squash with underprivileged youth, his story about what made it so great was all about what a great guy he was and how much the youth talked about how great he was, but I didn’t recall him talking about how great any of the youth were.

That conversation came in the middle of a volunteering shift we did together, sorting shoes that were being sent to Haiti as part of a microloan initiative to help families build self-sustaining businesses. When I’d asked him at the end of the shift what he’d thought of it, he replied he’d been hoping we’d only have had to be there for an hour or two so we could have just gone for coffee and hung out, but it was “fine”. I couldn’t help picking up on the tone of annoyance that he was trying to hide.

And it was definitely a bad sign when he chose to dress up as Trump for Halloween, telling me “it was fun to be politically incorrect for a bit. I told some gals that I’d spank them but they were only a ‘4’ so not worth it.”

And so the day came when I learned that Trump was president-elect, and I received an email from this guy talking about how much he had killed it in his squash game the night before, how he was going to a fancy restaurant with corporate finance brokers that night, and then ended with that throwaway line, “Oh, and bummer about Trump eh!”

I replied that bummer was an understatement and explained how and why I was struggling, and that I was just trying to surround myself with like-minded people to process and work through it. I distanced myself from him for the day.

The next night when he came over, I had decided that I wouldn’t try to gloss over my feelings or pretend everything was fine just to make things more comfortable for him. Instead, I told him I was still not ok. I explained how that election decision made me feel disillusioned with society, and how I instantly felt less safe in the world as a woman. I told him about how heartbroken and hopeless I felt that the bad guy won, people made the bad guy win.

While I talked, he ‘listened’, periodically sticking his nose deep into his wine glass and breathing in deeply to once again admire just how fantastic the red wine he’d brought was.

He dismissively made comments like, “well we just have to be glad we live in Canada” and “I just don’t stress about it because there’s nothing I can do about it”. I felt deflated. His commitment to complacency was fierce.

He commented about how I’m always thinking and grinned in a self-pleased way as he said, “In my head, there’s nothing, it’s just crickets.”

Crickets.

My son said to me yesterday that I have a “big mind”. He said it with a tone of admiration and respect, which was a contrast to that almost condescending remark my so-called partner had made a couple of days earlier.

It all became crystal clear. I ended the relationship.

Because in the world I want to live in, people will choose to actively work toward creating a society that is safe for all, whether it impacts them directly or not. People actively engage in critical thinking to challenge dominant beliefs and systems that are not only holding us back as a society but, in many cases, damaging us and the world we live in. Because for me, ultimately, complacency and ignorance are not sexy and frankly are no longer acceptable. And neither are crickets.

ghandi