Category Archives: Non fiction

Within yelling distance

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Peel memory one billion and one: having the first overwhelmingly gigantic meal (RED MEAT) in Dawson City and drinking an overwhelming amount of red wine and doing the nasty sourtoe shot thing (tequila, natch) and being surrounded by new people and a whole new set of social requirements (I actually used the men’s washroom, considering the urinals only briefly and then dismissing them before surprising a man on his way in and remembering oh, yes, society=gendered bathrooms, as opposed to the equalizing magic of an utterly neutral hole in the ground) and needing so desperately to escape from everyone for a second and remembering that yes, off the Peel I was technically able to make my own decisions and be my own person.

And so, breaking away from the group in what felt like a huge explosion of rule-breaking, groupthink smashing self actualization, but was actually just walking about fifty steps down the boardwalk, I sparked up a joint that I had been gifted post-Peel, inhaled deeply, dramatically deeply as if my performance was being evaluated, and exhaled every fucking worry, ever. Exhaled into a sky made strange by streetlights and multi-story structures, but with enough stars to still feel like (the latest incarnation of) home.

And yes, when the group, equally bonded to me as I to them, recognized that one of their own was missing and came out the door and called my name, I was, as required on the trip, within yelling distance. And actually pretty relieved when they came down the boardwalk and surrounded me again. Relieved that they would still come looking.

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Phew

CanoeCanoe trip vs. urban grind. So many “I cannot possibly keep this up” moments, way beyond the point where “just power through” seems like an option, so I have to go easy on myself, be a little soft (which feels counter-intuitive), wait and see (which I HATE), and suddenly it’s like “Hey, remember an hour ago, when I couldn’t possibly go on? Phew.”

Not gonna lie, the grind is fairly challenging right now. Here’s a little scene from the memoir for days like this:

“Straighten out,” I say. “Face the ledge.” That’s what we were taught to do, face the ledge head on, and if you miss the V, the sweet spot for getting over, you power through. We should straighten out, but there isn’t enough time. Or maybe we aren’t trying hard enough. So we go over the ledge sideways.

“Wooooah,” We both yell, like we’re on the log ride at the PNE. “Woooooooahhhhh.” The decent isn’t a big one, only a few feet, but it works my stomach over like a freefall. Somehow, we land  upright, but the water at the bottom is forceful and confusing. I don’t know what it wants from us.

“We got this, Bakes, we got this, Bakes, wegotthis,” Daniel says.

I’m trying to remember, there’s one direction you’re supposed to lean in this situation, and it’s counter-intuitive. That’s what they told us. It’s either up river or down river, but it’s counter-intuitive. But my intuition is just reacting to the boat. We tip left, so I lean right.

We got this, Bakes.

I lean too far, so it tips right, so I lean left.

We got this, Bakes.

I realize what I’m doing, and try to feel my core muscles and sit straight. There’s this move, I can’t remember what it’s called now, where you slap your paddle down on the flat water like a beaver tail to keep yourself from tipping over. But there’s no flat water at the bottom of the ledge, only boil and froth that wants to wrench my paddle from my hand.

We got this. We have to get this. No, we haven’t go this. Capsize protocol runs over my field of vision like the Terminator: Target=water. Objective=get out of the spray skirt, head above water, locate your partner, signal that you’re okay. Get upstream of the boat. Swim to shore. Keep your feet in front of you, so they don’t catch on anything and leave you pinned under the water. Bowman takes the paddles, sternman takes the boat to shore. This is happening. When the boat tips again, I practically dive in.

Radio star

I’m going to be on Smithers community radio today, CICK 93.9, around 2pm to talk about the Peel Project and how artists draw inspiration from their environment. You can livestream from the website, or I’ll be able to share it as a podcast later on if you miss it! 

Anti-social media

Island puppies!

My dad says that when he used to put me to bed at night I’d say “don’t forget me!” A phrase that basically sums up my current social media strategy. Short, glib, sometimes moody Tweets and status updates strung together like daisies to crown the heads of friends, family and followers. Whether they want a damn daisy crown or not. But in September I’ll be paddling through the Peel River Watershed from Whitehorse to the Arctic Circle, a long way from Wi-Fi. Awesome things will be happening every day, and I won’t be able to tell anyone about it. Not in real-time. Thoughts, images and emotions will have to be recorded and banked for later use. This process isn’t new to me, but I usually have the readily available social media steam valve when I need to shoot off little personal comedies and/or tragedies into the ether. Whenever I want to remind people I exist.

Two winters ago, I travelled to Thailand for four months. I was leaving Vancouver on a high note, having finished my year at the Writer’s Studio at SFU. I also won subTerrain Magazine’s Lush Triumphant award for a story I’d honed at the studio that year. My writing mentor, Timothy Taylor, had asked me to come back to the Writer’s Studio as his teaching assistant when I returned from my travels. This position, and my cheque from subTerrain would be waiting for me. Pretty sweet deal. But then I started to wonder if I really should leave the country. Surely not when things were taking off on the home front! What if, after four months away, people forgot how awesome I was?

I went to Thailand, because I’m not that insecure. Also, the tickets were non-refundable. But while I was there, I spent a lot of time on the internet. A lot of time. The Lonely Planet my friend Ben had lent me was a few years old, and claimed that Wi-Fi wouldn’t be readily available everywhere. It was readily available, for free, from Koh Lipe on the southernmost tip of the country, to Chiang Mai in the north. Sometimes the signal was crappy on Koh Lipe, but it was always there. And every day, before the sun came up and I went on my run around the island, past the plentiful island puppies and the young monks with their begging bowls who walked in single file and awkwardly avoided my gaze, past the kilometres of early risers with their eyes glued to their cameras, and their cameras trained on the sunrise, I updated my Facebook status. Blogged. Scheduled some Tweets. Posted about events going on in Vancouver that I would miss, because I was in paradise. People sent me emails, and I responded promptly. Bitched about the heat. Bragged about the heat. Updates: I’ll be home in three months, two months, two weeks. Here’s a photo of my omelette, my sunburn, my handsome, tanned boyfriend reading a book. We’re on the bus. In the airport. Bangkok, Shanghai, Vancouver. We’re home now. Going to sleep. Here’s the bottle of wine we drank to counteract the jetlag. Sorry about that 17 hour blackout. We were sleeping.

It’s not all bad. I did tons of great writing while I was there, and that’s what I was there for. But the internet was such a big part of my trip, I really can’t sit in smug judgement of the people who go on vacay and take ten million photos, who never stop looking through their camera lens. At least a camera lens is an extension of your eye. A windshield between you and your vacay, but you’re still driving the tuk-tuk. To look at the world through the social media lens is to gouge your eyes out, hand them to your online followers, and let them drive. You never stop thinking about how you should regurgitate your experiences for their amusement.  If I had a dollar for every time I thought “Ooo, that would make a great Facebook status!” I wouldn’t still be in debt for that damn trip.

There will be no internet on the Peel River trip. Not for twenty-three days. No first gorgeous hour of the day spent elsewhere. No instant communication gratification, or rather, that gratification will come from good old fashioned verbal communication with my fellow intrepid travellers. Talk about real-time. But then there’s no control, no editing or deleting, no time to carefully consider what I want to say before I say it. I write because I’m not fond of the way I express myself verbally. It’s chaotic, unstructured, full of tangents. I tell people more than I intend to, or leave out important context. I forget names, places, dates. I’m my own worst critic, often pulling out of my body mid-sentence to watch myself from a distance and mentally roll my eyes. So it’s not as simple as a social media addiction, or whatever modern term we’re giving it. It’s also a stubborn unwillingness to just be myself. Be with my self.

“This will be good for you!” You say. Yes, I know that. That’s why I’m doing it. I kind of suspect that I’m actually pretty awesome, even without editing. And I’m way hotter in person. There’s that.

 

Ode to Lis

AAaAAAAAAAaaa

My friend Lis is moving home soon. She’s been in Montreal for a million years getting all corporate: wearing power suits, making sales, skiing in the Laurentians, becoming the kind of person I admire and envy while I become the kind of bohemian flailer she admires and envies. I do suspect the grass is greener on the corporate side. Downright manicured, even. But that’s how perception works. It fools you into thinking you’re less awesome than you are.

Lis was the friend you lived with in your twenties, in a one bedroom apartment, who slept on the floor in the living room. Her student loan hadn’t come in, and she was just going to crash for a few weeks, but you didn’t want her to leave. So she stayed, and every morning, with a cup of coffee in hand, you tripped over her prostrate figure on the way to the futon to light your first cigarette of the day. By the time you got around to packing the first bowl of the day, she would come to, mutter something about just needing five more minutes. She’d take a swig of Coke from the two litre bottle she kept next to the bed, close her eyes, and wait for the caffeine/ sugar to take effect. When it did, she’d join you in your wake and bake. Then, after another smoke and an Italian shower (douse yourselves in perfume) you’d drive out to somewhere nice: the waterfront or Sooke potholes or Metchosin, to be outside. You’d bring beer. She’d have impractical shoes. You’d talk about stuff you were writing, and plays you’d both read. She’d tell stories so beloved, you’d ask for them by name. “Tell me Don’t Drink The Bong Water, Lis!” She’d always seem surprised you wanted to hear it again.

The details may be different, but I hope you’ve all had a friend like this.

Lis and I lost touch after university and then found each other again at Burning Man. Twenty thousand people, and she was camped right across from me. This is the kind of thing that happens there, there’s a Burning Man saying: the playa provides. The playa gave me Lis.

Lis is the friend you re-connect with in your early thirties, who takes you out into the deep empty playa and when a sandstorm blows up, tells you to keep walking. You know how dangerous this is, there are crazy vehicles ripping around everywhere: two storey giant birthday cakes and steampunk attack snails, and you can’t see two feet ahead of you. Lis tells you to keep walking. You’re pissed off, but you keep walking. The sand abrades your exposed skin, but you keep walking. And then some dubstep wafts in from somewhere unseen and you and Lis start dancing, slow-mo dancing into the unknown. You’re wearing a princess crinoline and motorcycle goggles and bunny ears and a Darth Vader chest piece over a silver bikini and you think “Thank god I’m here, doing this, right now.” The knot in your chest, the one you started feeding with your control issues when you turned thirty, unwinds. And you know you wouldn’t be doing this at all without Lis.

Your own details are definitely different, but you know what I mean. That kind of friend.

But a lot of this stuff happened a long time ago, and we’re not the same people, and that’s probably for the best. So now Lis and I get to forge a different kind of friendship. One that’s based on healthier, less destructive adult stuff, I suppose. It’s more in my nature to tell stories about the “good” old days, but Lis likes to look ahead. And she downplays all the lessons she’s taught me, and all the good she’s responsible for. That’s okay, I won’t forget. That’s how good friendship ages.

 

LIS 2

40 Week Journal

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We had a screening fundraiser last night. We had some great films, and it was exciting to see Fool’s Love: A 40 week journal, the short film I’d written some poetry for last year, up on the big screen. It’s inspired by a very personal story the filmmaker shared with me. Some of those in attendance asked to see the poem in print, so here it is.

A 40 Week Journal

4 weeks, a poppy seed. Tip of a paintbrush bristle.

You were the one we blamed everything on: spilled ink, clay left to harden.

Your hands covered in fish scales, this was no deterrent.

Bonnie and Clyde. Randy and Evi, in a Prius, on the run

from the Hollywood mind control. We blamed anyone we could.

 

6 weeks, a lentil. Plasticine eye of a dragon.

The man in the sculpture is having a scotch while the dragon

creeps up behind him. Open, you said to me. Free. I follow you to the dike,

to the Pit, to Gert’s. I look for you by the dredge pond.

I wonder if I am the dragon.

 

8 weeks, a kidney bean. The size and colour of an endometrial cyst.

My traitorous sex, my insides, out. A scarred up womb.

They said I’d never see the plus sign,

the blue line. Tonight we saw them both. Faded, but there.

 

12 weeks, a lemon. A product with flaws too great or severe to serve its purpose.

Ok, my breasts are still sensitive

and I got a charley horse on Saturday morning,

those are my only indications that yes, there might be something inside.

 

18 weeks, a banana, with a heartbeat, on a monitor.

7 o’clock, Mary and Solvey came with me,

even though they’re not morning people. I can’t find you. Not at the dredge pond.

Not at your sister’s. I can’t find my brushes—you took them.

I want to paint.

You don’t make it.

 

22 weeks, a mango. Sickly sweet.

You don’t make it.

 

28 weeks.

I’m in emergency. Just a scare. You don’t make it.

 

30 weeks.

Cook me breakfast and disappear.

 

32 weeks.

Tell me I don’t have to worry. Words under water. Submarine.

 

36 weeks, a cantaloupe.

A small, manageable depth charge.

 

40 weeks, a pumpkin. Hello, Pumpkin.

We had a good good-bye, no crying, and you were gone.