20 August 2016

On The Tragically Hip

In 1999, I was working my first grown-up job and had hired a student to work with me on a project. In an effort to get to know her better I took her for lunch. The conversation stopped and started as she tried to ask smart work questions and I tried to answer in a way that would make her (and me) believe I was a leader. When those five minutes were over, I switched to an easier subject - music. Who did she like? What was she listening to?

She gave me a litany of bands and then suddenly beamed. "But I also like the Tragically Hip!"

"Me too!"

"Yes but I have an extra special reason to like them," she told me. "They wrote a song about where I'm from."

"Where's that?"


I was, to a certain extent, instantly jealous. No one - and I mean no one - writes songs about Ottawa. Unless they're dirty limericks.

But as I've thought about the Hip over the years and more intensely in the last several months, I realize my jealousy was misplaced. They did write about where I'm from. They wrote about where everyone in this country is from. Small towns or big cities, east or west, north or south - there is a Hip song that echoes your idea of home.

Canadian identity is an interesting thing. We are large geographically but small in population; we are middle power internationally and like to think we punch above our weight but don't really. We want other countries, especially America, to notice us - but not too much. Just enough to say nice things about us but not enough to see the darkness that is as entwined in who we are as a country as the "nice Canadian" myth. We have often, as have others, treated Canadian identity as both fragile and a list of boxes to be ticked.

But it's not our identity that's fragile. I believe, after 149 years, we have a good grip on who we are. We are the country whose Prime Minister stands in an airport to welcome Syrian refugees. But we are also a country that has tolerated the marginalization of the First Nations, including turning a blind eye to missing and murdered Indigenous women until we couldn't any longer. We are a country with a shameful residential school history but we are also a country striving for reconciliation.

So it's not our identity that's fragile; it's the expression of it. And this is where the Tragically Hip come in. They have articulated and expressed who we are - all of it - fearlessly and without apology. Their music is a mirror they've held up to us and as we've sung along at the top of our lungs, somewhere deep under our skin, we've seen ourselves. Fifty-Mission Cap tells a great hockey and history story; Wheat Kings at first blush is a lovely, lilting ballad but is really the story of David Milgaard; Courage is a song for Two Solitudes author Hugh MacLennan; Three Pistols is a crunchy rock song but about Tom Thompson; At the Hundredth Meridian pulls together the threads of our geography; 38 Years Old is a mournful song about a prison break.

One of the things that makes the Hip so special is they belong to us. Just us. There are so many aspects of our culture that are either deeply influenced by the elephant below us or are so widely shared with others that it feels as though the Canadian-ness has been diluted. But not the Hip - they are the secret password to Canada. And while everyone would have loved for them to blow up globally so the whole world could appreciate what we know, it's okay they didn't. The Tragically Hip are family and each concert has been a reunion. It doesn't matter if others understand or love your family, all that matters is that you do.

Gord Downie is the poet laureate of Canada. He has provided us with stanza after stanza, echoing who we are in a way that is accessible for everyone. His poetry about us has covered it all - arts, history, music, literature, hockey. There has been a song for everyone. And the band has given us a soundtrack by which our collective and individual lives can be scored. The Tragically Hip have been a gift to Canada that we may not yet fully appreciate. Their love of country has been reflected back to them by the love this country has for them.

I was at the show in Ottawa on Thursday night. It didn't feel like a goodbye but rather a thank you.
At the end of one of the encores the band was embracing on the stage and they all hugged Gord, even kissing him on the lips. I point out this small detail only because to bear witness to that kind of intimacy and love between friends is a privilege.

After the band left the stage, Gord said they'd been friends for 35 years and would stay friends, forever. I like to think he meant all of us too, bonded by the music and the recognition of ourselves in it.

Forever friends.

7 October 2015

45 Things I Know

45 Things: 

    There are days where nothing makes me happier than a good cup of tea.

    I am amazed at the number restaurants that have no clue how to make a good cup of tea

    Some of the people who mean the most to me and who I talk to the most often live in different cities, countries and even continents

    I still miss some of the friends who aren’t in my life anymore, even if I’m the one who ended the friendship. 

    I am listed in a friend’s contacts under ‘Lunatic Libra’  - I think it’s fitting

    If a city could be a soul mate, mine would be Dublin (quelle surprise, I know) 

    I read PostSecret every Sunday and marvel at people’s courage

    I want to be of service - to pay my rent on this earth

    This is not the life I thought I would have at this point - that is both good and disappointing.

    Since I was 14, I’ve thought I’d like to run for office. After this election campaign, I’m less sure

    Twitter has put me into the path of some amazing people. I am grateful for every conversation I’ve ever had there.

    Making my friends laugh is my superpower

    I have zero visual arts ability, but I continue to doodle very bad purse designs when I’m bored

    Sometimes songs are much closer to prayers for me than actual prayers are

    “Someone who longs for a community of his own” This line from the musical RENT hit me like a sucker punch the first time I heard it in the late 90s and still does

    I have become fascinated with the symbolism of arrows and the idea that you can’t go forward until you step back

    I have been unsuccessful in running since I blew out my knee in 2004, but I haven’t given up the idea of trying again

    Whisk(e)y is the perfect drink. For all occasions.

    I have amazing, talented, silly, ridiculous, loving friends.

    I miss my former job and my colleagues. But I don’t miss the high stress of it all.

    Hockey is still my sporting love. But rugby is sneaking up there. Mostly because of the Haka.

    I’m still terrified of dinosaurs. It’s irrational and stupid and I love that my friends tolerate it.

    Slow dancing is still a favourite way to spend time.

    Cheddar scones from the Scone Witch are a little gift from heaven

    The perfect London Fog can cure almost anything

    I still, kind of, wish I would put pink streaks in my hair.

    I have finally decided on my next tattoo. Before this year is out, I will have it.

    Speaking with a friend about a passing desire to pierce my nipples, she pointed out I was more likely to get them snagged on a sweater than be a bad ass.

    I like keeping my room cold and snuggling under the covers - all year long

    I think online dating is God’s way of teaching me patience. Spoiler alert - it’s not working yet.

    I think tacos are the most perfect food. Especially Torchy’s Tacos in Austin, Tx

    I miss the West Wing

    A career counsellor told me I was an over-functioning perfectionist. When I told my friends, none of them - not a single one - was surprised. I was.

    My grandmother’s butterscotch pie is the single greatest, most delicious thing ever. And I want to make it for everyone.

    Good writing is a gift beyond measure and is to be savoured.

    I once walked 19 gates past my own at Heathrow Airport because I was too busy sniffing a man who smelled ridiculously good.

    It amuses me to no end when people confuse me being nice with me being a pushover

    My monkey brain wanders off and comes up with more ideas every day. I only worry I’ll never have enough time for all of them.

    French cuffs and cufflinks on a man are always, always a good idea

    I have given up on trying to achieve the perfect pony tail. On this I’m willing to accept mediocrity

    Anyone wiling to bring my coffee in bed might be my soul mate.

    This quote is a guidepost by which to build a life:  "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style." - Maya Angelou

    My brother is one of the best cooks I know and it’s not even his day job

    I hope I’m as good to the people in my life as they are to me.

    This is going to be a transformative year

    3 October 2015

    On Loneliness

    If I had a dollar for every time someone, usually married with children, said to me "I wish I had your life; you have no idea how great it is to be free to do whatever you want, whenever you want." I could probably afford a multi-year membership to eHarmony.

    I completely understand how my life, to those who are feeling a bit beaten down by shuttling kids to hockey practice or piano lessons or arranging playdates, seems like a desired state but the truth is they don't have an inkling of what it's really like.

    What they believe is that I don't have to put anyone's needs ahead of my own and that I only have to worry about myself. This is a fantastical viewpoint and one that seems alluring when you're cleaning up after your children have had the flu or muttering under your breath because your partner still hasn't taken out the garbage or emptied the recycling. But if we step away from the fantasy, the reality looks much more like this: It is assumed that because I don't have a partner or children I am not as busy or the demands on my time are more fluid and therefore I should be willing to drop everything to help. Often I am, but honestly the number of times people have said to me, in reference to someone else, "well I don't want to ask her because she's so busy with her family. You could do this." is too high to count. You become a de facto go-to person at home and at work because your time is considered up for grabs.

    The other piece often unconsidered when paired up people fantasize about being single is how there is no one to share your worries with. Yes, I have friends and family who love me (some of whom are right now reaching for their phones to text me and ask me if I'm okay. Spoiler alert - I am.) But it's not the same as having someone to share your life with. Having someone for whom you are the priority and who is the priority for you.

    Ever gone to bed worried, anxious or upset about something? Do you have someone to snuggle next to? To talk to in the freeing cover of darkness? Someone to rub your back or hold your hand? It's nice, isn't it? It makes you feel better, right?

    Going to bed alone with a head full of worried thoughts is daunting. It's lonely-making. It's a reminder that you're alone and the only way to solve the issue is on your own. Again, yes, there are friends and family but one of the things you realize as you become one of the last single people standing in your group of friends is you have to adjust your expectations of your friends. Oh I know, Hallmark and Glamour magazine will tell you friendship is an endless well but the reality doesn't quite meet the illusion. Friends who are married and/or who have kids have other priorities ahead of you. They have parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins etc who also rely on them. And so sometimes, as the person alone, it's about subtly navigating the space you can occupy in their lives at any given moment. Your friends are well intentioned and love you and want to be there for you but they can't help carry the load the way a partner does. It simply doesn't work that way no matter how many times you quote Meredith being Christina's person on Grey's Anatomy to me. It's weird, the knowledge that you aren't the number one person in anyone's life. It's like having a wall full of participation ribbons.

    Being lonely can, on occasion, be an awful feeling. But more often than not it's a tightness carried in the gut or the chest or the heart. It doesn't stop you from doing anything but it does make itself known from time to time.

    I know there are people who are in relationships, who have children and who are desperately lonely. And I think it must be painful to live that existence because all those things that should happen - someone having your back, someone who puts you first and who you can put first - don't but all the pieces of it are around you, mocking you of what should be.

    I don't begrudge any of my friends their happiness and joy in the lives they have built. And I do love the chance to hop on a plane and head to wherever suits me. But a decade of, mostly, going on vacation by myself is not as appealing as it once was. Having an experience - a sunset, a meal, an adventure - and having no one to share it with is not anything I had ever set out to accomplish.

    Friends and family are gifts, of that there is no doubt. And they provide a temporary easing of the tightness. But the grip of loneliness is a hard one to break free from.

    9 September 2015

    Glorious and free

    I attended an event today where, at its conclusion, we sang the Canadian national anthem. I love my anthem; I love the imagery and how very Canadian it is.

    As I was singing today, approaching the end of the anthem, I got choked up; specifically, when we got to the part "God keep our land, glorious and free". My throat closed up, my eyes watered and for a moment, I couldn't sing

    My distress was caused by my wandering monkey mind. As I was singing, my mind went to the refugee crisis, to the unending visual of people arriving by whatever means possible to the shores of Europe. These people are seeking a safe harbour, a port in a violent, unending storm. They have left with what they can carry, leaving what they know for the complete unknown and putting their faith in the humanity of other countries.

    And so as I sang, asking God to keep this country - my country - glorious and free - I was momentarily overcome. In order for Canada to be kept glorious it must - must - do better and do more with refugees. Our country was founded on people desiring a better life. Unable to build the lives they wanted where they were either because of war, famine or persecution, they came here and started over.

    Canada is a country build on the bedrock of new beginnings. We cannot now, because it is inconvenient to us, deny our roots and tell refugees there is no room at the inn. There is room. There is a lot of room and we can do this.

    When this issue is raised, many people start making noise about how we have to help the less fortunate in Canada before we help others. It's a false argument. It isn't an either or situation. We can actually do both if there is enough will. But helping refugees is not only our obligation, it should be our desire. If we want to honour our forefathers and foremothers, if we want to honour what being Canadian means, we need to remember how this country came in to being and then we need to light up the biggest, brightest vacancy sign we can find.

    I am by no means saying we just let people in without the verification necessary to be sure of identities, intent etc. But I know - I KNOW - it can be done more quickly, more efficiently and better than it is currently being done. If people stop building their solutions on what's in it for them and rather build them on what needs to be done, whatever target that's set can be met.

    Canada is indeed a glorious country. Entreaties to keep it such are not simply handed down from divinity, it requires work. And that work requires us to open doors, wallets and hearts. David Cochrane of the CBC suggested on the weekend that our response to the refugee crisis was about Canada's humanity. It is and I hope we live up to the promise of it. 

    16 May 2015

    Cutting the cord

    The end of a friendship can be more devastating, more heartbreaking, more foundation-shaking than the end of romantic relationship. Part of the reason for that, I suspect, is because we are conditioned to believe friendships last forever, while romantic relationships come and go until you find "the one." The assumption is that each friend is "the one" and therefore the relationship is guaranteed forever.

    Because of that, many of us are poorly equipped to cope when a friendship ends, especially if the end is a withering, death by a thousand paper cuts experience rather than a sudden, irrevocable break.

    And so here I find myself, looking at the final tie to a friendship that if it isn't entirely dead it is certainly only being kept alive by artificial means, namely social media. There have been a number of times where my cursor has hovered over the 'unfriend' button but I have been unsuccessful in completing the act. To unfriend seems remarkably final, which in light of the state of the friendship, shouldn't be that much of a surprise and yet I am hesitant to pull the plug.

    I don't believe I'm really harbouring hope that there will be a miracle revival of the friendship. We are in very different places in our lives and the reality that my life does not look like my friend's has created a seemingly insurmountable gulf between us. It would seem that I have outlived my usefulness especially since I am neither married nor a parent.

    There is, without a doubt, a space between friends who are coupled and/or parents and their single friends. The size of the space is entirely dependant on both parties willingness to find the common ground; otherwise, untended, the space slowly becomes exponential.

    The death of a friendship is a thing to be mourned. It is not assuaged by silly Rom Com movie marathons and ice cream. There is no rush of other friends with Kleenex and wine to help dull the pain. It is an incredibly solitary experience and a wound that remains fresh far longer than you think it would.

    I still haven't decided if I'm cutting the cord. Finalizing the end of the friendship, even one that hasn't been active in quite some time, feels big; then again finalizing anything generally does. There may be relief once it's done but I doubt it. Endings are rarely as good as beginnings.

    3 March 2015


    It's a strange, bizarre thing as an adult to find yourself on the receiving end of a bully. It's not much better as kid but I live in a fantasy-land where adults know better and therefore behave better. (Yes, I'm delusional and I probably need help.)

    When it happens, it's kind of slack-jawed, areyoufeckingkiddingme, moment. Because it's ridiculous that adults, who generally have expansive vocabularies, are reduced to aggressive temper tantrums because they didn't get their way. It's not okay, that in dealing with another adult, you let your asshole flag fly to such a degree that the other person is physically intimidated by you or that you threaten them in a public forum.

    But it gets even weirder as an adult once you've been on the receiving end of it. Taking actions has consequences. Real, serious consequences and not necessarily for the aggressor but for the aggressee. Others will be forced to make accommodations because of you. It could, definitely, impact your ability to do your thing and you may be asked to figure out what you can live with in terms of a solution.

    And as an adult, your instinct is to say you can live with quite a bit. You want to be a grown up and just kind of get on with things because that's what adults do. You also want to get over the part where you are humiliated that another person was able to bully you. And though you may think you shouldn't be humiliated, it's a hard feeling to escape in a situation like that.

    There's also the realization that perhaps one of the reasons you were bullied was because of your gender. I'm not paranoid and I don't think there are gender boogeymen behind every pillar but sometimes, sometimes, being female and having an opinion is enough to piss someone off. Sometimes that combination is enough to make someone want to put you in what they perceive as your place. And if it's not something you've encountered with regularity, it's enough to (metaphorically) knock you on your ass.

    People on the sidelines have a lot of views. With ease many of them will say to simply report it, wipe their hands and assume that's all there is to it. But it never is. People don't report things or don't take action because they fear they won't be believed. But even if they are believed, they worry about their own reputation, how others will perceive them or quite frankly, the humiliation.

    There is nothing like a crisis or a bad moment for people to show you who they really are. Some provide unqualified support, others don't want to deal and even others simply want you to get over it.

    It's not a desirable way to get clarity but clarity is always desirable.

    7 January 2015

    Sweet Jesus

    I came across this article today about US Cardinal Raymond Burke believes the Catholic Church is 'too feminized.'

    Speaking as a female Catholic, I would like to say: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!?!

    The Church is a lot of things but no one would accuse it of being female friendly, let alone feminized. In fact one of my chief complaints for many years now is that absent being a nun or a mother, the Church is not interested in women. It doesn't offer any roles for single women, doesn't go out of its way to ensure we are well anchored members of the community and provides no leadership opportunities for single women in the Church. 

    Based on the actions of Pope Francis since becoming Pope, I believe that will change. 

    I don't believe women need to be ordained to have leadership positions in the Church or to be of value to the Catholic community. The subject of female ordination has never stoked any particular passion within me. There are lots of men in the lay community who serve the Church without being ordained and I believe the same holds true for women. 

    So let's look at Cardinal Burke's litany of complaints: 

    There is a decline in the number of men becoming priests because girls are allowed to serve on the altar along with boys. Cardinal Burke says, 

    “Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural,” Burke said in an interview published Monday. “I think that this has contributed to a loss of priestly vocations.
    “It requires a certain manly discipline to serve as an altar boy in service at the side of [a] priest, and most priests have their first deep experiences of the liturgy as altar boys,” 

    I served an altar girl. I served as an altar girl for a number of years alongside a number of boys. I don't know that I was aware I needed manly discipline to participate in Mass. In fact, I'm pretty sure many of the boys I served with didn't have as much discipline as I did. But then perhaps it's because they didn't want to do things with me and just by breathing next to them, I came between them and their deep experiences of the liturgy. I assume those experiences are forbidden to me due to my ovaries.

    From there, the good Cardinal hits the favourite theme of so many conservatives.

    Can you guess?
    5 points if you can guess.
    Give up?


    Burke said he recalled “young men telling me that they were, in a certain way, frightened by marriage because of the radicalizing and self-focused attitudes of women that were emerging at that time. These young men were concerned that entering a marriage would simply not work because of a constant and insistent demanding of rights for women.”

    Self-focused attitudes of women is, for the record, code for not being subjugated by your husband. Self-focused attitudes of women is, for the record, code for wanting to be a partner with your husband rather than a servant.

    Oh, and insistent demanding of rights for women is that desire some of us have to be judged on our merits and not our genitalia. Demanding rights for women in fact has its roots in the social justice foundations of the Church of 'helping souls'. All souls. Not some souls. Not male souls. All souls.

    But wait, he's not done talking about EVIL FEMINISM.

    The focus on women’s issues, he said, plus “a complete collapse” of teaching the faith and “rampant liturgical experimentation,” led the Church to become “very feminized.” That turned off men who “respond to rigor and precision and excellence,” Burke said.
    “Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women,” he said. “The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved.”

    So to sum up, the Institution responsible for the expression of the Catholic faith is in decline because a) feminists and b) women being everywhere.

    I mean it couldn't possibly be the moral corruption of many Church leaders responsible for the sexual abuse of thousands upon thousands of children? Nor could it be the corruption that led to some seriously sideways accounting within the Vatican walls? It couldn't be the absence of leadership by many priests, bishops, cardinals and even Popes on any number of social matters that didn't involve women being sovereign over their bodies or preaching about the evils of homosexuality?

    In the face of all that, it's clear the problem is women, right?

    I have long said that while my faith is strong, my belief in the Church as an institution is weak. How you can claim to be the earthly expression of God's love and yet be so exclusionary, so mean-spirited, so narrow minded that you actually drive people away is beyond me.

    The election of Pope Francis has represented the greatest hope for me. Here is a man, who by example, is reminding all of us that the Church was founded on mercy, love, forgiveness and inclusion. Pope Francis is not teaching or preaching with fear but with joy. He is telling all of us - men, women, straight, gay, single, married, divorced - that there is more than enough room for us in church and that if we are speaking up for those less fortunate whether they be beside us or half a world away, we are doing what should be doing.

    So Cardinal Burke? You can take your dislike and distaste for women and let it consume you. The Church finally has a leader who wants all of us, as we are, and you aren't going to push us away.

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