Some girls wander by mistake.

Recently I went down a Sisters of Mercy-induced nostalgia spiral, and this particular nostalgia spiral was of a different sort than usual, because it led me to a time period I’m not used to feeling nostalgic for.

In high school I used to listen to Sisters of Mercy, but I also listened to all kinds of things. I used to look forward to ’80s “Retro Night” on the radio each Sunday, but I also dove headfirst into the short-lived swing revival of the ’90s, and my favourite band in the whole world was Moist. I wore a trenchcoat from the army surplus store, polyester “old-man pants,” and a KMFDM patch on my backpack. I was kind of all over the place. I didn’t know how to be one kind of way. I didn’t look down on it, as a concept – it just didn’t cross my mind as something I should do. And you can tell, when you look at old photos of me from high school and my early twenties.


(There’s also a photo of me dressed all in black and wearing a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, but I also look like I’m about to burst into tears – unrelated to the shirt – and my ego won’t allow that to go on the internet, even 21 years later.)

My late high school and post high school life was similarly all over the place. My big dream was to study poetry at a certain university in San Francisco, work in publishing, and have my first novel out by 23. Instead, I didn’t go to university at all anywhere. I created a play in Toronto with my friends. I made lino prints and zines on my bedroom floor. I used to drive home from my restaurant closing shift, listening to Sisters of Mercy and New Order to stay awake. I got on a Greyhound bus to move to Calgary at age 21.

I used to feel irritated about certain things I did with that time of my life, even though the play and the zines were among the most wonderful things I’ve ever worked on. However, lately I have been spending the past few days remembering how nice that entire time was – all of it. I did good, fun, useful, growing-up things. It was better that they weren’t the things I thought I should be doing. It was the time in my life that led to this online journal entry, from 2001:

It’s been six days since last I updated. It feels like two. Or ten, I haven’t decided yet. Working sixteen-hour days on a play has completely messed with my sense of linear time. If I didn’t have the date strapped to my wrist I’d be lost. But I’m fine. I don’t have to be anywhere until 3 today, which is something new and exciting for me, and I’m actually eating something that’s not Futures coffee or sushi takeaway (much as I love sushi). Tonight I don’t have to build any tables or trawl thrift shops for costumes or drive all over creation picking up set pieces. My hands are covered in theatre filth. I spent the night in a beanbag chair.

Last night was our opening and overall it went well. It just doesn’t feel like anything happened. I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t excited. I was hovering somewhere in between. I was concentrating so much on making everything Work that I forgot to relax.

Relax. Wow. I still remember that word.

I’m going to go now and make a sacrifice to some god so that my cellphone will just stop ringing.

Every single part of that feels so removed from my life now. And where I used to feel annoyed at that, now I think it’s great. I think she’s great. And for the first time I want to write about that weird, messy, hopeful sort of person I was. That strange turn-of-the-century world that seems longer ago than I realize. Perhaps the distance, the loss of the prickliness I used to feel about everything, will help.

Productive nostalgia, for a change!

Nothing and everything

Nothing changes, maybe even me. I wrap my scarf around my neck three times and nestle in. I drive my father’s car in the dark, in the rain, winding my way around random streets, wandering until I run out of coffee. Or I’m an early morning passenger with a bagel in my hand, passing my husband his coffee as we wander together, wondering how our lives will be next year.

He drops me off at the station and the sun is bright. On the train it’s quiet and outside it’s warm and I walk to the place where my friends are waiting, and we spend our time together in such pleasant and easy conversation, and I sit my friend’s toddler on my shoulder and the baby laughs and strokes my hair and I feel so lucky to know her, and to know them all. On the train heading back I lean my head against the humming window, a head full of plans, and it feels like such an end-of-the-year cliché to realize what was always obvious, and nothing and everything seems possible all at once.

Tripping over the carpet

Days that feel like older days. Lazy suburban summer drives, windows open, listening to a short story read on the radio. Sitting by the lake for an interminable length of time. Browsing at the bookstore I used to spend so much time in, tripping over the carpet. While my mother looks at religion books, I turn around and consider the wicca books, the angel books, remember my teenage bedroom full of ornate candlesticks I imagined would fit in in an Anne Rice novel. A woman approaches and pulls a tarot book off the shelves. She reads a couple of pages and puts it down. I see her ahead of us in line later, holding an interior design magazine, and I wonder if she was remembering too.

 

The Badlands.

Because I’ve been desperately missing the Badlands this winter, here’s a look back at one of my favourite places. First, back in 2007:

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And in 2011, when you could still go out there and walk around:

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I usually visit in the fall, but I think this year I’ll have to go at the very first whiff of spring.

Another shore.

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On Sunday Lake Erie was almost impossibly still, with some ice on the horizon. I had to keep checking the spot where the water shrugged against the beach to make sure the entire lake wasn’t frozen solid. We parked at a shoreside fish & chips shop in Lowbanks, closed for the season, and I made a note to return in the summer. Birds chattered above us and in the distance, and a greying dog named Trixie barked her hellos from the sand before bounding off. We heard her later being coaxed back into her car. (I know, girl, I know.) Even though we were only an hour from our home, the road trip mood was strong and so we stopped at the Tim Horton’s in Dunnville, the parking lot studded with motorcycles and people lounging about in t-shirts, their faces lifted to the sun.

Rules of transformation

Toronto crosswalk, July 2000.

Toronto crosswalk, July 2000.

A few days ago, I had to go to Toronto for a Finnish class. It was the first time I’d been to Toronto since I moved away in mid-January, and I was expecting it to feel disorienting. I felt a slight surge of alarm as I got to my old subway station and didn’t disembark, but aside from that, there was nothing major.

Afterwards, I was happy to cocoon in my parka on the bus back to Hamilton. It’s not anything special. It’s a stretch of highway I’ve been on hundreds of times in my life. But it was comfortable, it was quiet, the sun was low and the light was weak, and I had a cup of perfect Earl Grey tea I was more than willing to burn my tongue on.

When I moved to Calgary, I did so on a Greyhound bus. I spent 52 hours in total on it. It was such a narrow, contained little world for those few days. My Walkman died before I left Ontario. My life became little more than jockeying for first place in the washroom lineup at rest stops, eating packaged snacks, and watching out the window as my gigantic country slipped by. I wrote a lot. Fiction, but I also kept a record of everything I said in those 52 hours. It wasn’t much.

I’m probably making it sound dire, but it was actually nice. It was a big thing to do. I was 21. An Elvis impersonator serenaded us at the Dryden Greyhound station.

The trip from Toronto to Hamilton is nowhere near that long, but I found myself lulled back into that little egg of space, high up from the road, where I placed my gaze vaguely out the window and just let everything be important. And when we returned to Hamilton, for the first time I felt like it made sense for me to be there.