The Cities of My Youth: Bytown

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I’ve been ignoring the blogosphere.

My thoughts are often in large knots. I imagine if you could extrapolate the traffic in my brain, into a concrete image, it would look something like a horrible tangle of Mobius Strips. This isn’t conducive to blogging. I typically end up going from one topic to another at such a rapid pace, that I end up with pages of blabber. On top of that, I haven’t seemed to be able to sit still and relax the last little while. I’m really glad I don’t have a large audience, I don’t think I could handle the expectations of regular posting.

Awhile back on my other blog, I did a series of mini-playlists relating to the various places I’ve called home. It was a fun exercise in nostalgia. It made me remember not just moments that I cherish, but the small things I miss about those places. Recently, I’ve been listening a lot to an old, middle-school friend’s album. In one of the songs, there’s a line that goes:

I’d return to the cities of my youth if I knew the youth’d come back

I’m a sucker for nostalgia, so for the next few posts, I’m going to reminisce about the things I miss about those cities. Starting with my hometown…

Bytown 

I couldn’t wait to get out of Ottawa growing up. I don’t think that’s an unusual feeling for anyone who has spent a lot of time in a city. Particularly if they haven’t travelled a lot. In my youth, we spent more time exploring what we had in our own backyard, than seeing other cities. It’s not like I missed out, I just felt that by the time I’d reached high school, I needed to do some exploring. It’s been a touch over 10 years since I left, but it will always be my hometown.

I would say Ottawa is an underrated city.

It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of a Montreal. It’s not a big, sprawling metropolis like Toronto. It certainly isn’t the diverse, internationally driven, city that Vancouver is. It’s definitely not a city, when mentioning your hometown, that really packs a flavourful punch. After all, Ottawa is just a quaint, little town, full of blowhard politicians.

I mean, it’s really only the Capital because it sits so perfectly in the centre of the Anglophone and Francophone worlds satisfying both sides’ need for representation…right?

Well that’s one way to look at it.

It’s a very balanced city. By that, I mean you get a little bit of everything, especially as a kid. There is no shortage of museums, galleries, and historical areas. It’s one of the perks of being in the capital, the national galleries and museums are all situated there. Nature, science/tech, civilization/history, art, everything is well represented. It’s probably the part I miss the most. Being able to just wile a day away, absorbing all the information. I’ve visited all the museums more times than I can count, and even though they have changed in some areas, I could still go back a hundred times and not be bored.

Sports are pretty well represented too. While the population isn’t large enough to support a bevy of teams, there’s still lots to go see. I was lucky enough to see the early stages of the Senators’ rebirth. I was also fortunate to be able to enjoy the Lynx, when Ottawa still had Triple-A baseball. CFL football has had ups and downs (more downs sadly), but it’s coming back with a strong ownership group, which is exciting to see. Outside of that, there are so many youth leagues, it’s impossible not to find sports.

Between all those galleries, and the athletics I was surrounded with, I’m surprised I ever had a chance to stop. I didn’t even mention the libraries, plus the great programs that were run out of them. I realize that a lot of this stuff was 20 or so years ago, and it may not be the same. I’d like to think a lot of it is better now, though. Of course, I’m looking at this all through rose-coloured glasses, I’m terribly biased!

Now, I have to talk about the seasons.

Yea, Ottawa actually has them! Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Many of the other cities I’ve lived in/visited don’t have such distinctive seasons. It adds to the charm, because with each passing one you can look forward to new things.

Spring brings the Tulip Festival. While it’s not on the same scale as the one in Amsterdam, it’s still a bright, colourful, wonderful harbinger of Summer. I miss seeing the rows of flowers livening up downtown when May rolls around. I get lots of Dutch customers roll through my store during high-season, and I’m always eager to reminisce. Once that snow melts, it’s heavenly. I think Ottawa Springs are my favourite.

Summer can be muggy and humid, that’s for sure. That’s about the only downside. Festivals! Festivals! Festivals! Ottawa is home to some pretty awesome ones. Bluesfest is probably at the top of the list. It may have strayed far away from being a true Blues festival, but it brings in some pretty big heavyweight acts. For those who don’t have the time/money to see the huge American festivals, this is a satisfactory substitute. Plus, there’s still plenty of great blues/folk acts to appease the purists like myself. Folk Fest is also a big one later in the season. Much like it’s cousin, it has become a bit more diverse than the name suggests. That doesn’t mean the quality is lacking though. Of course this isn’t mentioning walks by the river, questionable beaches, and best of all: PATIO SEASON. Ottawa has fully embraced the microbrew fad, and there is no shortage of suds in the Nation’s Capital come Summer.

Fall in Ottawa is one of the most beautiful seasons I’ve experienced. With all the oak, birch, and maple indigenous to the area, the whole cities is a mosaic of red, yellow, and orange. It’s particular lovely in Gatineau Hills Park. While that’s technically on the other side of the river, it’s easily accessible, so it counts as part of the Ottawa experience. The trails are perfect. They’re low impact enough to enjoy the amazing scenery, while still making you feel you’ve gotten a good workout in. The air is so fresh and crisp, it is my absolute favourite season in Ottawa.

Winter. Oh winter. Anyone who’s lived in, or visited the Ottawa Valley, knows how nasty it can get. The moisture, coupled with high winds, and bone chilling temperatures, who could love Ottawa in the winter?! Well…winter means Winterlude for one. It also means skating on the Ottawa Canal. The world’s largest skating surface, it’s a crime if you’ve ever visited while it was open, and you didn’t experience it. Not only is it a ton of fun to feel the wintery air bite your face as you zip your way from Dow’s Lake to Downtown, but there are plenty of BeaverTails and Hot Chocolate stands to make it an even more worthwhile experience. Besides, the snow is lovely when you’re not shovelling it!

(DISCLAIMER: I do NOT miss winters in Ontario. While I do wish I could get a skate in on the Canal every year, I am quite content with my Pacific Northwest winters. Thankyouverymuch.)

See? Well rounded!

It’s not a perfect city, but it has the right mix of everything for young and old. While I may never call it my permanent home again, I will always think wistfully of my youth in Canada’s Capital.

-DFP-

 

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Milestone

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It’s funny how our perceptions change.

Two things we perceive differently throughout the stages of our life are: time and love. Particularly, in the manner they relate to each other. Time can make love grow. Love can make time seem like it’s flying by, or in contrast, make it slow to a crawl.

One thing that seems to go without saying, pertains to how time alters the way we love. Most would agree that when we are young, we invest emotionally with foolish hearts. Our naivety betrays us; we haven’t begun to understand its complexities. It isn’t until we grow old, bitter, and experience loss and pain, that we can fully grasp “love”. At least, that’s what a lot of us are taught.

For a long time, I felt like I was chasing after a feeling I couldn’t achieve.

When I was younger, it felt so easy and pure. My thoughts, emotions, my actions, so unequivocally influenced by my notion of what loving another was. There were no complexities, and that was the beauty of it all; it was simple. It felt nice. Of course, these were the ideas of a foolish young boy.

Throughout my high school years, I hopelessly tried to recreate that initial feeling of love. The idea that these attempts were fruitless, were burned in the back of my head, hindering me. I would go as far as saying, that in a dire attempt to prove the critics wrong, I forced my hand a little too hard. Early adulthood would further perpetuate these issues. I invested time, emotions, into relationships that were devoid of that feeling I was chasing so desperately.

I was 7 the first time I felt love.

For six years, that feeling would never waver. It sounds silly and juvenile, but everything poetry and prose taught me about love, I felt for this one person. I was made to be ashamed of feeling that way though. Unless you’re living in a movie, young-love is often a jumping point for mockery in our society. The teasing is relentless, despite being groundless. We don’t call it “young-like”. While time and experience may change the reasons we feel love, the intensity of the feeling never goes away.

It’s been 15 years since our paths diverted, I’m finally catching up with that feeling again.

Awhile back, my roommate Paul and I were joking about relationship milestones. “First argument” was one that got immediately brought up. That’s another aspect of love that seems to be shaped by time: milestones. When we’re younger the smaller mountains we climb, seem so impressive. As we get older, things like “one-month anniversary”, “first kiss”, and other “events” become trivialities.

Today marks 3 months of k and I being together.

I know it doesn’t sound like much. For someone who has struggled for so long to maintain, and be happy in a relationship, a quarter of a year is pretty significant. There won’t be a big kerfuffle about it. No cheesy date night. Just a reminder that for the first time in 15 years, my heart bottoms out every single time I think of someone. That, the day before I know I will see her, is filled with such excitement. Every day feels like a new day.

Simply put, there’s someone in the world, who makes me feel like I’m learning what love is, all over again. No matter how naive that sounds, or how quickly it’s happened, the joy and happiness that it gives me, is enough to drown out any and all doubters.

-DFP-

Calm East Word Slinger

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I used to write a lot.

I wasn’t very good by any means. I mostly wrote what you could loosely consider poetry. It started when my high school friend Tim and I decided to start a band. The way I figured it, I had to write 100 songs before I even picked up an instrument. Cover band wasn’t an option; we were going for broke from day one. It’s funny looking back on it, I wish I still had those old notebooks to be able to have a good laugh.

One classic I can only remember by title, was “One-Legged Camel”. After our band dreams were crushed, it was a natural transition into calling my writing “poetry” instead of “songs”. I was particularly fond of acrostics at the time, so the transition was pretty natural (yes, the “Camel” song was an acrostic). I guess I always liked following what I thought was bizarre structure. I fell in love with Bukowski as I started to find authors who’s styles spoke to me. I couldn’t write enough. I always had a notebook handy. At the bus stop, in class, at home, visiting extended family; I never let pen and paper stray too far. It was a pretty good outlet for teen angst.

In Grade 12, I took a creative writing class. This really let my pen do some serious scribbling. Now, what I had been spending all my free time doing, could be applied to classwork. I also had an amazing teacher (and enormous crush) Ms. Riddell. I started the class a few weeks late for reasons I can’t remember. I might be over-sentimentalising here, but I felt like she took me under her wing. She would have me stay after class and go over things I was writing apart from school. She pushed me to challenge my thought and creative process. She loaned me books and CDs and shared a lot of her creative influences. I became her peer helper for Grade 11 remedial English, and she even eventually wrote me a letter of recommendation for UVic’s prestigious Creative Writing program.

Then the well dried up, and I let her down.

I stopped writing regularly for a good year. There were bits and pieces that I would conjure up randomly, but for the most part, it all escaped me. I would have a small period of rejuvenation after moving to Edmonton, but that was quick to vanish. I would go approximately another 8 years without any kind of creative writing.

Cue Xmas 2013. k and I had barely started seeing each other, but I still wanted to make an effort for Xmas. I got her and her sissy each a blank card from Betty and Dupree; they do lovely stationary. The second I saw these two cards an idea struck me. They were fairly simple; blank on the inside with an illustration of a person on the front. They were a bit quirky (k’s and j’s) and suited my dislike for anything overly Xmas themed. For each card, I made up a story for the character on the front. Alliteration (which makes my motor purr) was unapologetically rampant in both. Suddenly, the writing bug had bit me again.

A few weeks ago, k asked for a bedtime story. While I’m usually pretty quick on my toes for a story, I felt immediate mental block. The Virgo in me makes me a perfectionist at heart, so even if the story was lame and predictable, I still had to have a framework established before I could start. She gave me a prompt, and immediately I knew it would take more than a few sentences to tell this story.

So I’m writing again.

I actually took a small break from what is quickly turning into a novella, to blog. I’ve been a bit neglectful of this. We’ll see how it turns out in the long run, but it’s nice to have the inspiration back for the time being. It even spawned a playlist over on decibelsinthebelfry (Yup shamelessly plugging the other blog!). Before I even had anything written down, I wanted to get a bit of a mood set for what I was about to create.

So here’s to a lady that has helped me regain my love for a long lost passion…

Seamus and Selkie

-DFP- 

 

Because There Were Viva Puffs

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Man have I neglected this thing…so brace yourself, this is a LONG one.

When I started this, it was a forum to remove some clutter from my head. I also wanted to start writing again, even if it was mostly just train of thought, or anecdotes. I used to fill notebooks weekly in high school, and then it all kind of fizzled away. Maybe that’s just part of being young and naive. You have this false sense of pride in things you do because, at that age, you are so sure you’re adult, and mature, and right. Everything you create must be golden. The editor inside your head, he or she hasn’t been born yet. It’s a feeling I hope to rekindle some day.

Then, life suddenly got busy, so this got neglected.

Between taking an online course, tap classes, work, and trying to fit a social life in between, the clutter that’s usually in my head hasn’t formed. There hasn’t been time. Oh, and I finally started to write something again…

k asked me a few weeks back to write her a bedtime story. Of course, rather than let myself go unfiltered and come up with something on the spot, I delayed. Unlike some other writing projects however, (Hello Fairytale Rum-Runners novel and Short Stories about Superheroes in Mundane Jobs!), there’s been some pen to paper. Ok, so I’m not very deep or far into it. Heck, I didn’t even do a flow chart or any character in the rounds (Oh please no one tell Ms. Riddell!!). The point is, pen was put to paper. It’s helped calm my thoughts at night.

k also mentioned the other day that it’s probably about time I blogged on here. Considering I’ve paid more attention to our joint music blog…she’s probably right. I had intended to post something last night. Things got a bit out of sorts though, and the last 30 hours or so have been a bit of a blur. I’m not ready to bore with details…there’s a fair chance I never will be. I will however make use of this sleeplessness to at least write out my intended post from last night.

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I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know what or who extends past our mortal plain. I suppose for lack of a better term (because we are so obsessed with labels) most would call me an agnostic. I’m not a big fan of that term, primarily because it’s so rife with skepticism. Whatever tenants of my spirituality I do hold, are not ones that I struggle with or spend time weighing their validity. I think people have become so focused on boxing a person’s spirituality inside a preset religion (or concrete system of beliefs), and it really detracts from meaningful conversations on the topic.

I’m kind of getting side-tracked though. To start, that preamble should serve as a bit of disclaimer. This post relates to something that extend outside of the “rational” or “scientific” plane. If that’s not something you can handle without being critical, rude, or condescending…this post may not be for you.

ANYWAY…

Thursday was a long day. Since business has been slow at work (oh the joys of tourism dependant retail), I’ve been working on our inventory. We’re just a small shop, so the task seems pretty straightforward. The problem stems from the fact that in the owner’s 30 years of business, no one has bothered to do any inventory management. Last year, it took me 3 months to consolidate 30 years worth of inventory: repetitive SKUs, dead stock, improperly inputted stock, non-existent stock, while also accounting for everything that was ACTUALLY in the store. A year later, I find myself still trying to fight this awful demon.

After yet another full day of going through boxes upon boxes of junk that has been collected over the years, I was ready to go home. I was sore, hungry, and exhausted. My roommate Tara had her parents over for dinner. She made a lovely shrimp/crab sun dried tomato-pesto linguine, and when I got home she had put a plate aside for me. As I was sitting down to eat, Tara told me they were heading out and she was really sorry for the mess in the kitchen. Hey, your parents come over, a whirlwind of awesome cooking for them is going to leave a mess, right? She said: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it when I get back”.

There are 6 of us in the house for those who are not familiar with my living situation. Paul and Tara are basically the landlords, there’s myself, Rachel, Lyndsay, and Jessie. Lyndsay is one of Tara’s friends, and is also a member of P&T’s church, as is Rachel. Jessie is a home-stay student from China that they are hosting while she goes to school. We are an interesting, diverse, neat group to say the least. Everyone is usually pretty good at helping out when it comes to cleaning up…but hey, we all have our off days ;).

Thursday, I was quite content to have one of those “off days” and take Tara at her earlier word. I devoured my dinner, and decided I was just going to go crash with some Netflix. I felt a bit guilty though, and thought that I should at least put away the dishwasher. That way it would expedite the cleaning process for when P&T got home. We keep some of our Tupperware in the pantry. When I went to put it away, I noticed something I hadn’t seen in years…

When I was a kid, my Grandma was always sure to spoil us with treats. She almost always had a full tub of some sort of gummy treat. Most times when I would go over with my mum and sister for after dinner tea, we would eat the whole thing. Cookies were also a staple. Two in particular: Chips Ahoy! Chewy, which were my Uncle Raymond’s favourite. I thought he was the coolest growing up. He did tae-kwon-do, had a Turbografx video game system, and he had sweet hair and a million types of mousse just like Uncle Jesse on Full House. I usually headed straight for those. The other ones she usually had were Viva Puffs. You know, the ones with the marshmallow on top of a cookie, enrobed in chocolate with a fruit jelly? I was never too crazy about them, but Grandma always had them…so they were nostalgic.

…Viva Puffs. I honestly don’t think I had seen them in 12+ years. I’ve lived in this place for over a year, and I don’t recall anyone every buying them. Tara does all the grocery shopping (mostly stateside) as it’s easier for the household, rather than have 5-6 of us all buying different things.If you’ve read further back to older posts, you’ll know that my Grandma passed away in early December. I was immediately thrown through a loop. I had both a deep sense of sadness, but also a sense of closure. This all goes back to my preface. I don’t pretend to know what happens after a person passes. I’d like to think that our loved ones stay with us in some sort of way, watching over us, keeping us safe. This felt like a reminder, to know my Grandma is still with me.

So after indulging in one, I felt compelled to repay the favour. Sure, there’s no way Tara could have known about this when she bought them. I just felt such an overwhelming sense of love, regardless of the initial intention…or even lack thereof. No matter who you are, what you believe in, returning that feeling in kind is what everyone should concentrate on more often.

After finishing unloading the dishwasher, I loaded it up again. I ran another cycle, then washed all the other dishes. I cleaned the counters and stove, and wiped the dinner table. Finally, I took out the garbage, the recycling, and the compost, despite being completely wiped and grumpy…

…all because there were Viva Puffs.

-DFP-

Trapped

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I used to have a recurring dream when I was a kid. I would sleepwalk through it, and it would take all my parents’ energy to wake me.

It started off where I would be eating M&Ms or smarties. I was little. Not age-wise, I was a tiny tiny person. I would be riding my trike. This is when I would get out of bed. I know this because my brain would flash between the reality of walking through our house, and the dream world. (One particular time I ended up in the front driveway at some ungodly hour.)

I was being chased by a horrible monster. He was enormous, bigger than a Titan of ancient Greece. He wanted to hurt me, possibly eat me.

There was always this moment where I knew I could wake myself, but was never able to. This was about the time my mum would usually wake up. According to her, I would be screaming. I don’t recall this aspect. In the dream, I couldn’t speak. My mouth was glued shut. She would come out of her room and though I vaguely recognized her, I knew I was about to be led to my doom.

She would bring me to my parents room to try and calm me down. This is where the monster was. As soon as I would see my dad, I would be frozen. He was the monster. In my brain, he was a giant mound of garbage, much like a junkyard. When he would rise from the bed, his true form would show itself. (My dad was very good to me growing up. Outside of the usual father chest-puffing when I was being an S-H, he was fair. Definitely not some sort of deep-seeded mental distortion of how I saw my dad).

The sleepwalking always felt like some sort of purgatory. I knew that the images in my head weren’t real, but it would take a lot of energy on all three of our parts to wake me. I would only wake up when I felt I was in the worst possible peril. Right when I thought I was finally about to be hurt or eaten. The next morning I would be so tired I could barely function.

Even as I’ve grown up, I still feel the ephemeral grip of the dream. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with the residual feeling of it. I’ll feel exceptionally small within my home, my fingers get a weird tingling that fills me with utter dread and anxiety. I’ve figured out how to wrestle myself from the dream’s grip…but it seems it will always be lurking in the shadows of my sleep.

DFP