The summer's gone, but a lot goes on forever

Leonard Cohen is gone. It was an inevitability, telegraphed by the man himself in recent months, but seeing the official status at the top of my Facebook feed was an unwelcome surprise tonight. Right now, it doesn’t feel much like the big loss I expected to feel; in a year that already claimed David Bowie and Prince, where voters in the UK and US legitimized hatred and resentment of the other, Cohen’s death almost seems anticlimactic. Just another light gone out after our eyes already adjusted to the darkness.

My introduction to him came via a country music station out of Selkirk, MB in the early 90s. They mostly played new country (Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, etc.), but had a few weekly shows outside the regular format, including one that played a lot of folk and bluegrass. It was that show that exposed me to John Prine and Emmylou Harris, and long before I knew his name, I remember hearing a spare and muted synthesizer-based track where a gravelly voice man invoked Hank Williams, women cooed scat vocals, and a ghostly piano played after every few verses. By the time I heard the song again a few years later during a family camping trip to Hecla Island, I knew Cohen’s name but not his work, more familiar with the exaggeratedly dour impression Roger Abbott did on Royal Canadian Air Farce than his words and music until my first year at Mount Allison University.

A borrowed greatest hits compilation was my first conscious exposure to Cohen’s music. It took; I bought I’m Your Man before the school year was out, and Songs of Leonard Cohen and Recent Songs over the summer. My friends Scott and Jay helped fill in some of the gaps of my Cohen appreciation (they also developed my fondness for tea and good beer). By the time I finished my degree, Cohen became one of the cornerstones of my music taste, and a bonding point with many friends. I’m not always in the mood to listen to him, but there have been many times I sought solace by quickly losing myself in his words.

I’m glad to be able to say I saw him in concert. He played the Scotiabank Centre (then called the Halifax Metro Centre) about six months after I moved to Halifax. The tickets were a birthday present from my younger sister, who came with me to the concert; they were cheap seats so we were all the way up in the nosebleeds, our eyes going back and forth between the action happening below and the screens projecting the close-up camera feeds. He was 78 at the time, but spry, seemingly growing younger from the point he skipped on stage for the first time, still able to kneel and climb back up many times during a multi-hour set. For all his reputation as a depressing artist, he exuded a lot of joy that night.

31 in 31: Day 15

I really need to take a vacation; more specifically, I need to take a vacation that lasts longer than a weekend, where the balance of my time off isn't spent travelling, and where I go somewhere that I haven't been before or a place I haven't been to in a long time. I would like to see people I don't get to see that often anymore. I want the anonymity, the unfamiliarity, the confusion.

Maybe that's why I'm so restless these days.

31 in 31: Day 14

Another day spent in bed, dodging contact with other people for the most part. I had a headache pretty much the whole day, which may or may not be related to the two beers I drank last night before SNL. I'm guessing not, because it was only two. Better to have one of these days when I don't have to be at work, because I hate feeling like this when I don't really have the option of avoiding people.

Deleted Tinder; didn't take long. I actually have no interest in dating while I'm currently a "discount rent-a-clerk". I'd like to feel like I have a little more control over my life before I consider sharing it with someone else. I get into enough arguments with my cat anyway. I don't need the extra stress. I probably should be cutting the amount of time I'm on social media as well, especially when I'm not feeling particularly social and the media turns into just more noise to filter out every day.

I feel these posts are a little repetitively negative lately. I wish I could just get my head into the space where I'm not always thinking about myself.

31 in 31: Day 13

Whenever I have a day off, I spend a lot of it drifting in and out of consciousness. My dreams aren't especially memorable these days, though; maybe I'm fooled enough by how boring and mundane they are to think I'm living my life instead of hiding in bed. It's only upon closer scrutiny that the details reveal themselves to be slightly off.

I went to see The Girl On The Train with a friend this afternoon; we had been trying to meet up for a little while. The movie was alright (nice job by Emily Blunt), it was good to see Bethany again, and it was a decent excuse to get out of the apartment, though once that was done, I didn't have any desire to stick around downtown for Nocturne, and didn't feel up to going anywhere but home. I'm starting to get a cough and my back's been bothering me all day, but I think what I really need this weekend is some alone time.

I've been finding it harder to read lately, or at least get myself lost in books. Maybe I just want to project the image of a voracious reader to impress people. Maybe that's my underlying motivation for a lot of things. 

31 in 31: Day 12

I'm up late because I ended up falling asleep for a few hours after work again. I tried to get to bed earlier last week, woke up around midnight and couldn't fall back asleep until about 2 am. I was a little groggier than usual when waking up but still managed to catch my 7:10 bus. I sometimes think of catching a later trip but traffic was at a standstill in front of the base yet again.

I wonder if this week's bad mood was caused by not having the usual alone time that the weekend gives me. For someone that needs space to retreat every once in a while, seven-hour-plus rides on crowded buses plus time visiting family doesn't really help, even though the latter also involves cat cuddles. It could also be the cumulative effects of a million other minor frustrations, real or imaginary. 

I had to pick up a bubble envelope at the Scotia Square post office the other day. I was fine going in, I was fine coming out, but somewhere in the stretch between Lawton's Drugs and the exit by the food court, I had the sudden urge to just get the hell out of there. This could all be in my head, but I felt a little dizzy and tunnel visiony. I sometimes have the same sensation at the Mumford bus terminal; occasionally it happens at the library. It would be understandable if something bad happened to me in any one of those places, but the worst I can really say about all three places is that waiting for buses at Mumford is a pain in the ass.

Today was also apparently "be bald and free day". I've been shaving my head pretty much regularly since I was 21; my hairlines started receding in my teens and the rest started to thin in university. I usually try to keep it shaved, though it grows into a Charles Emerson Winchester III puff whenever I'm not feeling up to the (minimal) time and effort it takes to clean it up. I always try to make sure I do before going to some kind of event or other outing. I just feel more like myself with the completely bald head, and the amount of upkeep it actually takes to maintain the look gives me an admiration for anyone (male or female) who commits to it. There are a lot of times when it isn't by choice, but I think the key to pulling off the look is an underlying sense of comfort with or confidence in your appearance. 

31 in 31: Day 11

I think this malaise I've been feeling has become physical; I can sense the beginnings of a fever coming in. Again, it could be the lack of sleep. I go home from work, nap, and continue to feel headachy and tired. My patience has shrunk down to nil and any issue, headache or insecurity is amplified. Any attempt at connection feels like an imposition. This is my life this week.

I may just need a change, but I don't really have an option for one, at least not an attractive one.

31 in 31: Day 10

Nocturne is this weekend; I went pretty much every year since I moved here. but it really peaked for me about three years ago. I don't really want to go out by myself (or run into people on the street when alone), but I don't really feel up to making plans with other people this week. It's a free event, so budget isn't a problem, but I just have this overwhelming feeling that art really isn't my thing, no matter how much I want it to be. I guess that makes me a dilettante.

I'm sitting on raw photos I shot in August when I did a "free photoshoot" offer. I'm not especially thrilled that I haven't finished editing them, but when I see what I shot, so little of it is salvageable. Too many out of focus shots. Part of me thinks it's because I'm using a cheapo Opteka portrait lens that won't focus properly at 1.8, but the poor craftsman blames his tools. It could just be my own eyes. I had hoped to supplement my income with photography, but I really don't think I have hustle, skills or tools to make it work right now, nor can I really afford to invest in the latter two. I've been wondering whether I actually enjoy photography, or just the validation that I get when I share the pictures.

I recently read Truth Is Fragmentary by Gabrielle Bell; it's a graphic novel of her travelogues and diaries, including daily comics for the month of July in three different years. There's quite a lot I identified with, particularly her insecurities and anxieties; the tendency to pull away from other people and get lost in the mess of one's own thoughts.

I have more I want to talk about, but I need Tylenol and rest.

31 in 31: Day 9

I got back into Halifax at about 10 last night; despite a small delay in Moncton, my bus ride was for the most part uneventful. The power was out in a lot of the city, though; the north end looked positively eerie as my bus crossed over the MacDonald Bridge, and the neighborhood around the bus terminal was dark as well. From what I could tell, my neighborhood wasn't affected in the least (it rarely has been in the four years I've lived there), and I came home to the sound of CBC Radio One and an attention-starved cat.

I fell behind on this whole 31-in-31 thing fairly quickly; I still intend to make up the posts by months' end, but I don't want to fall into the trap of just posting one sentence and publishing. I know that's closer to the spirit of the exercise than only posting when you have something substantial to write about, but I feel like I've been so mute lately that I want to use this spot to get back in touch with a part of myself that's become lost in the fog, especially whenever I tend to withdraw from people in the real world (today was one of those days).

31 in 31: Day 8

I didn't get around to writing a second post as I had expected yesterday. My first bus (from Halifax to Moncton) had wi-fi and outlets, but I was so cramped in my seat that it was very uncomfortable to have my laptop open, and I didn't want to accidentally jam my elbow in my seatmate's face. My second bus (Moncton to Fredericton) was roomier, but didn't have the wi-fi or the outlets. I rarely go west of Moncton anyway, so I wanted to see the unfamiliar stretches of the route.

I moved a lot when I was a kid, and when I was 8, my family moved from Nova Scotia to Manitoba. The second day of our trip ended with us in Fredericton, and to my younger self, that part of the trip seemed interminable. Some of the highways were realigned and renumbered in the past quarter century; the Trans-Canada is now a four-lane expressway all the way through New Brunswick, though the bus still has to go on the old alignment for part of the leg between Sussex and Fredericton. It's a beautiful country drive, but It's weird to think of that stretch as part of the main artery through the province until fifteen years ago.

I got into Fredericton at about 7:30, had dinner with my sisters, then we went to my friends' place. I've known Andrew since I moved to New Brunswick in 1999, and we've been in touch pretty much constantly since high school; he and I have a very similar sense of humor and a mutual appreciation for "second golden age" SNL (1986-91 or so). I hadn't seen him in person in about a year, and I don't think I had seen Christine (his partner) in about five. It was a good night, full of homemade wine, unconsecrated host cuttings, cheese, and a homemade adaptation of Cards Against Humanity with even more offensive and Canadian content. We ended up staying to watch SNL and didn't get back to my sisters' apartment until about 3 am.

My parents came down for Thanksgiving dinner today and after they left, my sisters and I watched the debate. It was an interesting contrast in body language between the two candidates; the way both handled the undecided voters' questions told volumes. Either way, I have a headache after watching the whole thing.

31 in 31: Day 7

This post is a little late. It could have been the two beers I had after work (which I needed this week). It could have been the news about Donald Trump that consumed my social media feed like a giant car wreck which everyone witnessed.

I may compensate for this short "marking time" post with another one later today, but I'll be travelling for most of of the day and have plans after I get to my destination.

31 in 31: Day 6

I've been up way too late all week. I've been napping more after work, and then trying to reclaim some of the lost productivity afterward; it's a bit of a backslide from being able to get to bed at around 11 pm for the last few weeks. I have to wake up at 6 in the morning to catch an early bus that I don't really need to take, and by the end of the day I'm usually in this fog of exhaustion.

I had a little more money than usual this week and have been spending too much on eating out. It may be a byproduct of my exhaustion, or I'm sick of what I can cook on my otherwise limited budget and culinary skills. I sometimes stop off at the liquor store to buy a single beer or cider; if I'm going to just have one, I don't really want to spend the money at a bar unless I'm there with another person. Of course, I end up not making plans with people because I don't think I can afford to, likely because I spent the money on the food and beer already. The cycle continues.

I've been having hypothetical conversations in my head. I catch myself making the gestures that go along with these conversations and wonder if some of the words are spilling out of my mouth.

31 in 31: Day 5

I try to dodge the ghosts whenever I can. It's nothing personal, but they raise too many questions with no right answers. I always have to be on guard for them; there are some spaces I'm certain they never inhabit, and there are some places where I won't go anymore whenever possible. It takes a lot of work and strain to always rejig travel arrangements to minimize run-ins, probably more than it's worth.

The encounters aren't so bad, but the lingering haunting is the rough part.

31 in 31: Day 4

Today started with a headache; I can't remember if I was on my usual vibrating bus on my commute, but I felt exhausted and gross pretty much all day. I wasn't really up to making small talk or anything like that (even less so than usual), and to be honest I kind of tried to move around undetected by acquaintances whenever I could (which is not really an option on one of the two floors I work on). Even the post work nap didn't have me feeling 100% tonight, though I managed to make it to vote in the municipal election online and watch the vice-presidential debate.

I downloaded Tinder, but I don't swipe right on anybody. I rarely swipe at all. It's mainly a curiosity thing at this point; dating's not really on the table until the other fronts stabilize. We'll see where this goes. 

My cat has taken to hopping onto the bookcase shelves whenever I sit at the laptop and don't pay enough attention to her. She does something similar whenever I'm asleep and she wants something from me. It's either that or she starts tearing apart anything on paper. Magazines, notebooks, flyers, that kind of stuff. I have to take precautions to make sure she doesn't wreck letters from friends or important documents. She's a little needy.

31 in 31: Day 3

I keep thinking back to a conversation I had a few years ago. I was visiting a friend in Moncton, and we both wistfully reminisced about some of the people from our university days; special relationships that just eventually faded, like our lives were individual orbits that came together at a specific time to provide something each needed, only to diverge again. I wish the detail and emotion of that whole night weren't as fuzzy as they are now, but I'm always going to remember how intimate and piercing that whole discussion was, and how fortunate I am to have had it.

The people who take me to that point are the ones I want to keep in my life.

31 in 31: Day 2

It's grey and rainy here in Halifax. Not really the kind of weather that has me wanting to go out with the camera or do much of anything. I also have to do laundry tonight, so in all likelihood today's going to be spent here in the apartment. 

There's nothing wrong with a day in by yourself. I seem to need this more often than others. My main problem is that social media tends to accentuate the whole "fear of missing out" thing, so lately I've been taking breaks from logging in, even going so far as to delete the apps from my phone. These periods don't last long, though. It just feels like I have very little to add to the conversation, and most of my posts seem to be YouTube links to songs I like, or things posted for attention and validation.

Today is my fourth anniversary of moving to Halifax. I'm not going out or having people here to celebrate the occasion this year. I'm grateful for the friends I've made here and would rather be here than in New Brunswick, but I'm starting to wonder if I'm ever going to get out of this precarious work "real life on hold" zone I've been in pretty much since I came here. I see all these pictures and posts from friends who packed up their lives and started afresh and wonder if I should I follow their lead, or if this is the highest level I'd be able to get to no matter where I live. I'd like to be able to experience this city from a place of stability before giving up on it.

I miss the version of myself that I was when I first moved here: a little less apprehensive, a little more open to experiences and exploration. I wonder how I can get back to that place again.

31 in 31: Day 1

Last year, I did an exercise where I forced myself to write a blog post every day for 30 days. There were days when I struggled to come up with content, but on the whole I was glad to have done it. I don't know what egged me on this time, but I figured I might as well force myself to post once a day for every day this month. Last year's run was "30 in 30"; since October has 31 days, this is going to be "31 in 31".

I didn't like September. August was exhausting, but I could at least blame the new job, and I managed to get a few photo shoots and social outings in during that month. September was considerably tighter, both in terms of finances and sociability. I was stuck in my head, couldn't really focus, and felt myself growing more distant from a lot of people over the last few weeks. Friends. Co-workers. I had the overwhelming feeling that I was working to prolong a status quo that stopped working for me two years ago instead of building the kind of life I wanted.

This feeling started almost as soon as the month began. I think I sensed it the day I reached out to my friend Laura and ended up going to her place for dinner, beer and a movie. We discussed the need for risk and willingness to let one's self get hurt in order to find happiness, but my margins are too thin for that right now. When I went to a housewarming on Labour Day, my thoughts distracted me too much to give myself over to the spirit of the party. I had patio beer, went to a food truck rally, and saw George Elliott Clarke speak at the Word On The Street festival, but I was preoccupied with career frustrations and overthinking the connection I felt with someone a while back. This drained me.

I had won tickets to the Atlantic Film Festival closing night party, but almost immediately after winning them, I had second thoughts about going; combined with a lack of money for drinks and the 40-minute bus rides each way, it became less appealing the more I thought about it. Whatever half-assed attempt I made at finding a taker for the extra ticket was more along the lines of "someone needs to drag me out of my apartment" than genuine interest in going. In retrospect I probably should have refused them, but I picked them up just in case I were to change my mind. I eventually tried to find takers for both tickets, but eventually just tore them up and threw them in the garbage. If I had gone to some of the screenings, had something decent to wear, and didn't have to take practical matters into consideration, it may have been fun, but I just had the feeling I would have felt awkward and out-of-place all night.

If September's theme was my thoughts crowding things, activities and people out of my life, I hope October's involves making space for them again.

The overthinker

I've been lost in my own head for the last little while.

My thoughts start to crowd in on themselves, and block whatever part of my brain is supposed to control the rest of my body. I can't fully see or hear what's going on around me as my brain does a persistent running commentary or generates a number of imagined conversations. My arms become these two weights; I have some control over my fingers, but lifting them and getting them to hit the right keys quickly sometimes takes a conscious effort. Your words take a few more seconds than usual to reach through this haze. Maybe touch registers more quickly.

It's a little lonely in here, but I don't feel like I have the space for anyone else right now. I can't fully articulate what's on my mind because the sheer number of these thoughts have caused them to turn into a steady stream of white noise jamming whatever connection I'm trying to make. When this happens, I may furtively toss a few lines out but usually end up pulling back even further. Ideas and feelings don't seem real beyond the static.

This isn't permanent, but the exit seems to materialize as randomly as the trap that pulled me in.

Sweater weather

I'm at the library. The sun is out, but it's no longer warm enough to justify a T-shirt and shorts. I'm reluctant to wear the shorts anyway as my waist size is a little smaller than it was when I first bought them. I think I overestimated my girth at the time. The process of clothes shopping has never been my favorite and I end up relying on gifted shirts and pants. It's probably about time to get some new clothes either way. Nothing really seems to fit anymore.

My friend told me a little while ago that I'm always looking for others' advice on what I should do, instead of just doing what I want. Maybe I don't feel like a decision is justified unless I get enough positive feedback. Is this insecurity or conditioning? Am I a pet that's waiting for the command, then the "good boy" and treat afterward? It always feels like I'm waiting for something. It's hard to just do what you want when you don't know what that is anymore, and you're more concerned with keeping your life running than taking it anywhere.

I'm lost in a "Yacht Rock" playlist on Spotify right now, trying to follow my train of thought. I remember recording a lot of these songs from an AM radio station in Winnipeg. I had to sit through hours of Michael Bolton and Celine Dion to get to them, but the older songs always stood out. Maybe there was a melodic quality to them I enjoyed, or the smooth production that contrasted against the mid-90s hip-hop and grunge imitations. There was a lot of music that came out of that time I've grown to appreciate, but back then I stayed in smoother waters. The university students that descended on the city in the past week weren't even born when I made those tapes. But I wasn't born when a lot of these songs came out either.

The city feels too small sometimes. The familiarity is starting to drive a lot of the magic away; it becomes background noise. Maybe that's normal when a place becomes your home.

It's still hard to write about feelings

I relate so much to this comic that Kelly posted a few days ago. I relate to a lot of her work, but that one really depicts so many of my current struggles.

I've wanted to write a blog post for a little while. It would usually happen that a number of my friends would all update their blogs at the same time, and I would want to post something just so I would have fresh content to link to whenever I left a comment, but I'm going through another bit of a case of writer’s block. Writing SNL reviews is relatively easy, but the personal blog portion has been a challenge.

I don’t like it when my writing gets so vague and generalized that I’m doing a bad imitation of an academic paper, but I’m a little concerned about bleeding too much onto the page on a public space that’s marked with my real name. I wonder how Elan, AJ or Anne manage this balance. How far inside yourself do you need to reach to develop your voice, to be able to frame your personal experiences in a way that resonates with others? I love when a blogger writes things that I relate to on a deep level, but I'm too guarded to be able to achieve this in my own writing. 

I'm settling back into a regular routine. I'm still not getting enough sleep but I'm at least able to get to bed a little bit earlier than I had been. Money's still a little tight on the temp wages, but it at least gets me from month to month (for the most part), and an extra paycheque in August meant I was able to grab drinks with friends a couple of times while it was still patio beer season. I'm a little distrustful about posts that try to put a positive spin on every situation. Life is nowhere as pat as that, which is also why I hate so many cheery memes, but things are better than they were two months ago, at least on that front.

There are a few other changes I'm still trying to navigate, though. I'm no longer sure about a lot of things, least of all what I really want. About a year and a half ago, I realized I felt something that I wasn't ready to feel; as much as I consciously shied away from getting to that point, it caught me completely by surprise. I fought it, but to be honest, I think the resulting mental friction caused by my resistance made things worse. This whole experience has left me feeling vulnerable in a way I haven't been in the last 15 years, and tore through a lot of the definitions and defenses I've built for myself throughout my adult life.

Maybe I needed this to break me open, or maybe the heart is just dumb as shit. (A few of my friends will attest to the latter, usually with the curse "fucking feels."). I usually attempt to get through most things unscathed, even though anyone who tries as a life strategy generally doesn't get anywhere. I don't have any idea what this all means, though. It's hard to come up with conclusions when you're still trying to make sense of it all.