“Every journey into the past is complicated by delusions, false memories, false naming of real events.” Adrienne Rich
It’s time to sit and write another one of these. I’m feeling nervous. I have been extremely emotional lately, and trying to keep working, staying present with groups and in one-on-ones. The spill off is going in to some of my most precious relationships and I’m terrified that I’m damaging them. I don’t know how humans do it. Does everyone experience the kinds of ups and downs I do? In a lecture I attended in February James Hollis talked about how emotions are a reaction by the soul to the decisions and orientations of the ego. This makes a lot of sense to me. Somewhere I know that my anxiety and sadness are connected to a kind of working against the natural grain of my soul. But I resist, because my soul’s grain seems to lead me away from some of the things my ego most desires.
On another hand, I think maybe my sensitivity is a big part of my gift. It really helps when I need to be able to tune into a group, to understand where the blocks are, where the possible conflict is, who is not understanding, who needs a little support, when to shift the energy, what questions are in the air. My emotions in this sense are an instrument. But they engender havoc in my intimate relationships, and moreover devastate my inner world. This morning I was in such a beautiful circle, facilitating with Flowstate, one of my dearest friends and all I could do for the first few hours was suffer. A migraine brought on my narratives of abandonment and punishment that aren’t real, that are just left over from the rigged-up past. Do other people work themselves into states like this? I feel like there is a good distance from me, where I am useful and helpful and attractive. But if you get too close you start to see these broken parts, and especially these high, high waves of emotion and pits of fantasy.
But tonight it feels a little like its breaking. Clearing a little. I had dinner with The Beatbox which helped enormously. Some people don’t mind my broken parts, thank goodness. Soul friends. I’m in Vancouver right now, to run a couple of arts facilitation trainings. I moved to Vancouver when I was eighteen, once I’d realized that my life in Ottawa needed to be upended, that I needed to discover for myself what there really was to be afraid of in the world, instead of just absorbing the fears and walls of my parents and community. What my own values were. To learn to hear the voice of my soul. Now, twenty years later, it feels like home, even though I moved back East about four years ago.
The Beatbox is one of the best friends of my life. We met when I was twenty two. I feel like I discovered who I am beside him. And continue to. We met at Blair’s old Grassroots head shop on Commercial Drive. He was lithe and all fire then. I thought he had walked out of my subconscious. I’m still not sure he didn’t. He came to the Psi Co Sly Sho all those years ago and invited me to the youth arts camp which changed the direction of my life and introduced me to my soul’s purpose. That’s where I learned that there is more to love than tribalism. That community is a broadening of the heart, a way of opening up energy that is narrow and intense so that it can embrace difference, so that the wild funny mirrors of the world can tip a little further, so I can see more of who I am in their reflections. So we can push against the labyrinth walls, come together and create new pathways for our species and our world.
We’re halfway through May. In June I will be leaving for Switzerland to start working on my PhD. I think I might look back at these essays not too long from now and laugh at my writing, my ideas, these watery diaries. That’s what I’m hoping from this schooling, that my mind becomes clear and crisp and cold, fierce and ruthless. I want my heart to stay warm and my mind to be honed. Right now they can get so confused with each other, the mind and heart. I want to learn to think, to learn to grasp the world at a more finely tuned frequency. I want to make a contribution to the way we think about ourselves, on this planet. The way we know how we know. The ways we understand what matters, what is real.
When I first arrived in Vancouver I was slim and young; flexible, open, shy. I had shaved my head not long before, because of some problems with the electric blue hair dye I’d been using. I had been doing Tae Kwon Do for the past decade, and my knee injury was finally healing. I was waking up into a sense of myself as a woman, just the first little rose rays of it. Thanks to Tawny Star I knew how to dance, which made all the difference. Oh, I should tell you about Tawny.
In the last year I was in Ottawa I met a woman named Tawny Star. It’s amazing how important people can come into your life and leave. (I mean, I still see her on facebook, but…well, that particular colonization of time and space is a subject for another week.) When I knew her at that time she was so important she glowed in my eyes. I wouldn’t be myself if I hadn’t met her, either. I wonder how many people I could name who would fit in that category. People I have known and loved and who are now long gone, but who marked my life forever. I wonder how many people might say that about me.
Tawny Star was unlike anyone else I had ever met at that time. We were both in the music school at Ottawa U. I had slid into the department because I was determined not to follow the biochemistry-to-doctor path my father was most set on. I had a music teacher at the time, who was also my first lover, who helped me get through the audition. It wasn’t that I cheated, it was that he knew exactly what they would be listening for and coached me on that. It wasn’t cheating, it just wasn’t a plan that would sustain me over the long term. It was an intervention. At the last minute he gave me his slick silver trumpet to play and it was as if I had been using training wheels and suddenly he gave me a pair of wings. I soared through that audition. Later, my teachers would wonder what I was doing there. But Tawny was different. She was there because she was a wildly talented pianist. It was wonderful to hear her play, though strangely rare. She was private with her gift, as if it was a limited substance she didn’t want to waste. Instead, what we did together was smoke, get high, and go dancing. It was the first time I had experienced the fragrant, sexy, hilarious, intimate feminine rituals of dressing up to go to a bar. I was awkward, I felt kind of grotesque and gigantic next to her, though when I look back at the photos from that time I was a beautiful little bending sapling. She taught me to wear makeup, taught me to dance, talked to me about men and sex, taught me how to flirt, how to get to know the owners of the bars, the djs, the regulars, how to be glamourous, how to be tough and fragile at the same time. Tawny was tiny and bleached blonde and incredibly sexy and elegant. I remember this one particular silver velour dress she used to wear. She would spend hours putting every hair in place, making her skin glow, her nails buff, her jewelry perfect, her perfume imperceptible but ubiquitous. She would do it all in her underwear and then at the last minute, suddenly drop the silver dress (or something equally fantastic) over herself, like a mist falling in a forest. I was eighteen, she was twenty-five. She had a kind of neurotic neediness, and a way of filling hours with her self-reflections and the winding stories of her life. I was so in awe of her, and so shy, that it was a perfect friendship for that year. We had a bi-weekly ritual of trekking forty blocks in the snow from the university to pick up weed and then stopping at a tanning salon on the way back just to warm up. I had never before nor ever since been to a tanning salon (obviously). This is the perfect illustration of my year with Tawny Star.
After some time, just about a few months, we both dropped out of school. For me, it was the inevitable outcome of a short, steeply spiralling undiagnosed depression that culminated in a manic night of cutting a space princess costume I’d worked on for a month into square inch pieces. I will tell you that story (and how it was redeemed twenty years later, sometime.) We planned to move to Vancouver with her brother, M. I could sense the fabric of my life changing its colours and patterns as we made our plans. I can look back now and know that I needed more space, I needed to be able to explore myself and the world around me. At the time though, it felt different. It felt like magic was pouring into my limbs from a tap in my chest. I was deeply into ecstasy and this small dance underground scene in Ottawa and it was blowing my mind. I never wanted it to stop. It was exciting to be seen as a woman, to discover this world of music and afterparties, and slick, physical charm, and characters and ego and a value on surfaces and materiality. My childhood had been safe, deep, rich, regulated. I loved being out in the world, I was shy but oddly fearless.
When it was time to leave Ottawa for Vancouver Tawny backed out at the last minute and I ended up moving with her brother, M and another friend of his who we called Fitipaldi. Again, if I look back I can see that those were kind of lost years. About three or four years of parties, drugs, swarms of people I don’t remember but who I thought I cared about at the time. It morphed, many times. At first I knew only M’s friends. I remember that first day I arrived in Vancouver.
Mom had given me a little sweater with a rainbow stripe across the chest. I had my shaved head, and some blue velour stretch leggings. I had bright blue platform sneakers and big glittery jewellery. I took mom’s copy of Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media and read it on the plane, and left it on board by accident. Mom, dad and the Brother drove me to the airport. I’d decided to move about two months before, and I think my parents were still reeling. The Brother was sad, but it was years before I found out what my leaving had actually meant to them. That while I was following my scent for freedom and the unknown I was leaving the people who had deeply loved and invested in me. I was too selfish, too cramped in my life, to really feel what I was doing. The Brother gave me a book by Christmas Humphries called Concentration and Meditation. He was sixteen.
When we landed M and I took a limo to the West End in Vancouver. Our first stop was at the home of a friend of his, a beautiful blonde actress who was an important part of our lives that year, but who I can’t recall the name of at all at this moment. But we also met Madlove at that moment, and he is still so important to me now. I remember his first comments, the first spark of friendship. It’s amazing how you know, and at the same time know nothing. The future is wrapped into every moment. What keeps us from seeing it? What uncovers it? We picked up some weed from this friend and headed further into the west end.
It’s along the beach. We walked along English Bay, Second Beach, then doubled back. My eyes were drinking, soaking, drowning in the beauty of the ocean, the smell of the hot sand in May (wow, I just realized it’s been twenty years this month), the driftwood logs like reclining aliens all along the beaches, the ubiquitous impossibly tiny dogs. We walked all the way down Davie and then Granville until we were at Main and Hastings. I’d never seen anything like it. The pain and chaos and community, the heroin, the bustle, the sidewalk shops. Remember, I’d grown up in suburbs, and then pretty far out in the country outside Ottawa, I’d gone to Catholic schools, a private high school. We were outside of the Patricia Hotel. M told me that was where I would be staying. It was the first clear feeling I had that I would not be safe with this person, even though I could have clearly seen it before. M spent much of the next year and a half find subtle vicious ways to torture me. Like many of the other important people in my life our interaction was not safe or healthy, but it changed me and helped me to awaken myself, toughened my skin a little. I wonder if my emotional chaos is related to the ways these lessons have unfolded.
I realized there was no way I could stay at the Patricia. Now that I have lived in many places and seen many lifestyles and learned about many people I would be able to articulate why, but at the time it was just a feeling. I went up the street to the YMCA and stayed the night there for forty dollars. But I had four hundred dollars, no job and no idea really how to get one, so I knew I couldn’t stay there more than one night. I called the older brother of my brother’s best friend, Mel, and he let me stay in his community house for a month in exchange for washing dishes for him and his grad school friends. I continued to meet M and Fitipaldi every day during that month, while they got settled, stayed with friends on couches. I got into their world. I learned about them. It was a world of drugs, weird video games, lies, and conspiracy theories.
That first night we went to a club, called Sonar. I danced, but M and Fit were up to something I couldn’t’ quite suss out. It would all come to make sense later. We met a group of their friends there, and then we all went to a warehouse party. Three storey ceilings. Lots of ecstasy. Lots of gorgeous ravers. I spent most of the night talking to an extremely handsome blonde man from Regina, Bold. I would later fall deeply in love with Bold, in one of the early iterations of the rejection complex I’ve been working through. But that night he was an angel. I was swinging in an arm chair that had been hung from the ceiling, while extraordinary music was spun by a dark skinned man in neon pink everything, and Bold came up to me, he pushed the swing a little and then curled into it. He said something that I had longed to hear, and that was true then, and is true now, and as often as I forget it I am reminded, You’re with friends now.
These five or six men ( for the most part) became my world, almost like family, in those first couple of years. The days were often very long, sometimes thirty or forty hours long or more. We found various schemes and hustles, and they used me in ways that I could not understand. I was a good combination of smart and naive, and they were always looking for creative ways for us to make money. Eventually this led me to Burnaby, to Molly Rao, and to Gold Seal Corporation Limited, which I think I will get into next time (I might even try to write next week’s essay tomorrow, so I’m caught up).
I loved those days. When I think back I remember the rooftop of our apartment complex, Anchor Point. The sunset glinting off the mirrored buildings. The cigarette burns on our carpet. The endless weird meals of ramen noodles and peanut butter. How we never, ever cleaned the bathroom. The nights of dancing until I was higher on the music than the drugs. The expansion of consciousness and the erosion of values and the eventual emergence of myself with wings. I look back and remember how I slowly started to be able to tell who my friends were. It was as if they suddenly stood out in relief, once enough ocean, mountain, weed, music and maybe more than anything endless days of doing nothing started to heal the hyperactive overachieving world I’d come from.
Even now I fight against that clamped down message, you’re not good enough. There was something about those days. When I would walk home from a series of parties at seven in the morning and smoke cigarette butts I found on the sidewalk, and crouch down next to my friend Lion who lived on the street and always shared his food and his wisdom with me, when I didn’t have to be anywhere or account for anything, when we smoked all our money time and again and then had to think of something quick at the end of the month. Where we sat at the beach and looked at our toes and we leaned on each other, but were hard on each other, and didn’t really trust each other, but were all we all had and how I got to undefine myself, and get real blurry at the edges; there was something about all of it in those first few years that spun me around and around and then pushed me forward, with one hand out, dizzy and happy, to pin the talk on the donkey. The life I have now comes from the spinning risks I took then. I hope I never stop being that girl, and i guess I couldn’t if I wanted to. Because if the future is all woven right into the present, the past is too; it’s more like a fragrance, a temperature, the past is everywhere, it permeates everything. She’s here right now, that young me, laughing at how I’ve told this story. Remembering so much more of it, holding all the details, every moment, keeping it all sacred, stored in my soul, my little compartment of self in the vast, vast endless illimitable universe.