Make no mistake. This is a love letter.
I'm in another hotel bar, eating the same snacks I sold from 2001 to 2004 when I took that job at the Fairmont to pay for school. I swore ten years ago I'd never be like these idiots: buying over-priced shit to show off. I'd never be a big wallet tourist. You'll never see me in this kind of place.
The Manhattan is expensive but it's strong and the barmaid has brought me three cherries and a pen and paper so I'm feeling warm in my jeans and t-shirt while the rest of the room swarms in with their ballgowns and tuxedos. I feel like I'm in love. It is a perfect end to my perfect day in Canada's capital. Skating, poutine, beavertails, shopping for syrup, The Bay, CC.
This year has been heavy for us all. Deaths, marriages, babies, bankruptcies, lawsuits, violence, hospitals, breakups, breakdowns – pure madness. I can't believe we've made it through and yes, I realize it's not even close to over but we're getting over the hump...(when people say life is tough, this is precisely the kind of shit they're talking about!)
Thirty wasn't quite what I was expecting. As a little girl, thirty looked a lot more like white picket fences and rugrats and a lot less like this jet-setter fanstasy that is becoming my life. Living in Paris seemed like one of those things people said they'd do but never came through on. I expected to be settled down by now – somewhere in the country with a couple of kids, an apple tree and a typewriter; that was all I ever wanted or needed. By twenty, I seemed well on my way. A ring on my finger, finishing school and already talking about making littles ones. And then, before I knew it, I lost it all and my blank slate and empty bank account looked me square in the eye, gave me a big fat F and said 'do over', drowning me in debt and heartache. In shame and self-destructive behaviour.
And thank God it did. Because for everything I lost, I sure have made up for it in spades by making friends with the likes of you people.
Since LONG before I got married, love has been more than a bit of a fascination of mine. What the HELL it means; who's got it; who doesn't; how to win it and lose it; how to kill it dead; our tendency to convince ourselves we've found it when we're totally lost and how we never know just how good we've got it until it's gone. Love is that thing that both fuels us and ruins us. We're desperate to have it but once it's in the bag, we just don't appreciate it anymore. It's inate, in all of us and it's that one piece of sustenence that nobody tells you about when they send you on your way with your diploma, harping only about the roofs, the clothes and the shelter you're going to need down the line. Nobody tells you just how much you need love in your life. Youth swells the illusion of the urgency of it, age distills the hope a bit, even breeds cynicism until one day you look around you and you can't find a single happy couple in the flock and again - it puts it all in doubt and that terrifies me. Because, when you've spent a lifetime looking for the answers to these questions, if there isn't love in your life, you've got to ask yourself why you get out of bed in the morning at all. I've asked myself that question more times than I'd like to admit.
Not so long ago I was sitting in my apartment in Paris second-guessing every decision I'd made so far: the moves across the country or to new ones all-together, the jobs, the degrees, the men; the loyalty, the trust – every damn bit. My once glass half full of dreams was sitting empty on the kitchen table with a chunk of red sediment in the bottom of it and suddenly that cup wasn't half full anymore, it was just an empty, cracked, piece of shit Ikea goblet. I drank a four euro bottle of Bourgogne before dinner that night and was passed out cold by eight o'clock thinking dark thoughts alone in a dark room. The darkest thoughts I've had in a long while. Everyone was in so much pain. I couldn't make a single phone call home without hearing how shitty your days were, how bleak things were looking. It wasn't just me, it was all of us. Everything was so intense and it was killing me. Where was the love? Where did it all go? I know I had it once – I know because I wanted to drive with the windows open and hold hands and laugh all night long. I once wanted to make love in the grass and run through wheat fields and forests with no clothes on. I know I felt whole not so long ago. It was what had gotten me to Paris in the first place but lately, I hadn't been recognizing it anywhere, in anything or anybody. It was all just a big pile of poo. One stolen manuscript, one depressing apartment with mice and cold showers, one boyfriend who was all over the map, zero people in town I'd call 'friends' (not because I don't care about them but they're just not you - friendship takes time and trials to develop properly), a shitty job that paid shit just so I could stay in a country I wasn't even sure I wanted to be in. A country that just might eat me up and spit me out if I wasn't careful.
And then one of you walked into my apartment and made me laugh. You dragged me out of bed with cans of beer and André Ethier and you were obnoxious and rude and you woke me up. When I drunkenly blurted out that I wanted to die, you told me to shut up but I know you were listening even though you turned the music up so loud - almost so we couldn't hear our own voices - then looked me square in the eye and said maybe the single most important thing anyone has ever said to me to pull me out of the quicksand:
'If you do it, I won't come to your funeral.'
In the moment, I didn't care much but a good half hour into the evening I remembered what I'd forgotten all alone out there in Gay Paris – I already had love and apparently that was all we needed. I had LOTS and LOTS of it. It had filled me up and out and it was the reason I got out of bed in the morning. I once wanted to make the lot of you proud. And I definitely wanted you at my funeral. Shortly afterwards, that pretty picture I'd set out to paint in real life was bullshit and my thoughts were a heck of a lot clearer again. It wasn't real, these things I was suddenly after again and I'd given that kind of life a good hard try already once and walked away from it - more than that - ran away from it, sprinted even, after only a year and a half of marriage and a fistfull of pain. It all came flooding back. I'd never been such an angry, miserable, uninspired, lonely, bored, and heavy bitch in all my life as I was after walking down that aisle. So what was it I was waiting for? Why all of the sudden did I feel like I was missing something?
Because I was. I was missing you people.
I wasn't a fool. I knew that moving to France was a huge risk. People always say they'll keep in touch but rarely do. It's not malicious and I'm not judging; it's life and I'm no exception. It's hard enough maintaining regular contact with people who live in the same town as you but feeling close to friends when they're out living their own lives in another country – it's an awfully great expectation and it's too much to ask of anybody. And still, when I needed you most, you all came through for me. As usual. As always. Phone calls, emails, skypes, cds and all the words I needed to hear. And like Hermann Dune insisted 'Don't you worry a bit. Try to think about me.' It worked. And remembered what I was doing it all for. Why I was writing, living & loving - it was because you people existed. It was because we loved eachother (well, I hope you feel the same). That was worth celebrating.
Just when I was starting to think that it was all going to be okay again; despite everything; despite writing for years and producing shit; despite my up and down drama of a relationship; despite all the craziness that was happening to the lot of you; I had this sneaking suspicion that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Still unsure about what to do next – visa on the way out, a second wedding looming (this time for VERY different and far more practical reasons), feeling like I just couldn't be a thirty year old babysitter any longer, I played hookie from work and pretended I was sick. Turns out, mentally, my excuse would likely hold up in court and I wasn't quite right in the head – that time off was not only deserved but necessary). That morning, I was determined to figure it out on my own. I boiled some water, made a cup of coffee and listened to a cd from an ex-boyfriend that to this day is still one of my all-time favourites because it reminds me of a time when everything was up in the air and life was throwing signs at me by the dozen. I would ask God for a sign. If my eyes were open and my stomach was willing to accept the hard truth it usually preferred to deny, it ought to work, it usually did.
Minutes later, my neighbour jumped out of the sixth floor window and landed in my courtyard. I found her lying there, almost lifeless, shocked and apart from calling the Pompiers, I had no idea what to do next.
That fucked me up more than I can tell you. You all know the story by now: the blood, the bones, the breakdown. The woman survived and I made it out of there with just nightmares and anxiety attacks. Could've been worse. Could've been much worse. It had this strange effect on me, though. I was dreaming about it again and again, obsessing over the details of the day and, like any woman – wondering what it all meant. I couldn't nail it down, though. It could've meant a whole slew of things:
1.-I ought to just go through with it myself already.
2. -I saved someone's life. I should be thankful, proud, even feel good about myself.
3. -DO NOT get married again, you idiot!
4. -This town is not for you, leave, PARIS, VITE! You don't belong.
5. -It doesn't get better. It only gets worse. If I'm not careful, I'm next.
6. -Finish this fucking book about suicide already, loser!
The possibilities were endless. God could really be an asshole when he wanted to be.
The possibilities were endless. God could really be an asshole when he wanted to be.
I couldn't figure it out and my head was spinning with regrets and worries realizing that the rest of my life was moving on over here while I was over there trying to be bohemian but making a big ol' depressive mess of it all. After three long years of trying to shed the fear, it was back and all flared up again like a bad yeast infection that you're too embrassed to tell anyone about, one that's in far too private a place to scratch in public so you just go home and put some cream on it, hoping for the best but knowing that it's going to come back again and that this is only a temporary solution. Only one thing seemed crystal clear for me after the jump. I needed to come home. I needed to see my friends and my family. I know I wasn't supposed to need anybody, but I did. I needed you.
So I hopped on a plane back here yet again hoping that a little time here would cheer me up. It often does. A little tequila, some good music, a benny, a corned beef sandwich, sleepovers, bowling, guest brunch shifts after late nights of binge drinking – Canada is still my miracle cure for depression. It's not Toronto, though, it's you people that make this place. I've always known that this town wasn't for me. The drama, my inability to keep anything private or sacred, the booze, the money, the drugs – it overwhelms me. All of these lives and loves I've led and lost – this place has elements of them all. It's a lot for my fragile heart to take and I've always known that I needed to venture out there on my own to find myself (SO cliché, I know but that's me, cliché) and part of what propelled me to head to Paris in the first place was this weird series of coincidences and this feeling that I was meant to live in France (the French education, the last name, the food, the wine, the lovers, the writers, the free asthma medication – every compass pointed there) but without YOU, without the people who have made my life possible, I'd never have had the courage or the confidence to even try. Before I left in 2007, I was just a broken down Chevy and when General Motors went belly-up, you guys got my motor running again, paid for the fix-ups and the touch-ups and even offered to change my tires for me when it all went flat. You literally saved my life and got me back on track and I owe you my life.
Growing up in Oshawa and Vancouver and finally in Toronto, I couldn't have been farther from making it to Paris and settling down there to do what I love. And yet, suddenly, here I am, not so far from this fantasy that I dreamed up as a girl. It most definitely hasn't all been easy or fun but it's incredible all the same, this irony that's coming to life and hey, if we don't suffer, what the Hell do we have to write about, right? It's all got me to thinking about worries and regrets. All of us, we've spent so many years worrying about what our lives would become, what they could become if we weren't careful: accidental babies, mental breakdowns, business failures, divorced, alone, bitter, poor, having to speak French all day every day..GASP! In the end, none of the worrying did us much good. We've all had to face our destinies as they've come for us with black cloaks and those scary reaper scythes and all those lives we were trying so fucking hard to avoid, they got every one of us and, let's face it, they're not so bad. In fact, some of them have actually improved our quality of life. They've given us futures.
Life is what it is. It's a happy accident and that's it. I think of the hours I've spent making plans for this future or that future, rather than just going with it, I'm amazed at my own naiveté. Who did I think I was, anyway? We've all been through the shit and not only have we survived but we're doing pretty okay for ourselves. No, we may not be rich or in control of a God Damned thing but we're good people and that's something, it is! I for one can say that those things I've always dreamed of finding: real love, a family, traveling, spending my days reading and writing and playing music and not working for an asshole in a place that inspires me, that's worth a lot more than cash. Christ, I've pretty well done it all. And much like my grandma said just before she died:
'At night, I lay in bed and I think to myself – I really have done it all. Nothing's really fun anymore, you lose that, but I appreciate things and I am so thankful for my life. It's amazing'
I see it now and I'm fucking glad that woman jumped out that window while everything was up in the air. It's brought me back to you guys and now I remember again.
I'm happy to say I've already got more love in my life than most people ever get in a lifetime. It's in my blood and my bones. You're the smile on my face, that spinny buzz in my head like when I've had few too many beers, you're the consciences perched on these shoulders of mine and that warm feeling I get in my heart whenever anyone says the word 'love'.
I'm not looking for love anymore. I've found it. I've found you all. And they're right. Love is all you need.
I've got myself a big, happy, dysfunctional family full of new adorable babies, picket fences & typewriters and well, I'm going to plant that apple tree this spring in Normandie and soon I'll have had everything I've ever needed. So, one day, when I finish this book and publish it and make my fortune, I'll pay you back for everything you've done for me over the years. I'll call you all and fly over for Thanksgiving (because it's the only sacred holiday left) and I'll make you a duck-stuffed duck because they don't quite get the turkey dinner thing over there yet. We'll eat foie gras with griottes and eau de vie and drink bottles of delicious cheap wine and when it's time for dessert, we'll all head out there together and pick an apple a piece: peel 'em, chop 'em up and soak 'em unpasteurized butter and brown sugar; maple syrup too if you're bringing it. While it's in the oven, we'll nibble on stinky cheeses and let the kids play around in the yard, fantasizing themselves about how one day they'll create something for themselves like the lives that we live now. And when it's good and hot and cooked through and through, we'll take it out and each take a fork and dig in together and remember these times and laugh at the thought that we'd never make it through.
So do me a favour and keep your fingers crossed for me and think positive thoughts of me locking myself in a library basement and finally finishing this puppy. I'm due.
You are the great loves of my life.
You are literally everything to me.
HERE ARE THE SONGS ON THE CD I've made for you all. I hope you love it and I apologize for the bad sound quality of my piano. This digital recorder isn't the best and I haven't played in ages. Each song on this album has a special meaning and if you know me, you'll get why. If you don't, just listen. There's some good shit on there.
TOURIST IN MY TOWN:
- Winter 2011 -
- FUCK YOU – Cee Lo Green
- CASTLES & TASSELS – Adam Green
- US – Regina Spektor
- AXIS: THRONES OF LOVE – Pink Mountaintops
- IF THERE'S SUCH A THING AS LOVE – Magnetic Fields
- PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE – The Smiths
- THERE GOES THE FEAR – Doves
- FIRST DAY OF SPRING – Gandharvas
- TRY TO THINK ABOUT ME – Hermann Dune
- HOME – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
- I DON'T REALLY LOVE YOU ANYMORE – Magnetic Fields
- HOLIDAY – Pink Mountaintops
- SHANGRI-LA – M Ward
- ANOTHER TOWN – Regina Spektor
- DON'T THINK TWICE – Me, on piano
- TOURIST IN YOUR TOWN – Pink Mountaintops
If all goes well, I'll be back on the 1st of June for a visit and to get my visas sorted out. Looking forward to every minute of it.
Lots and lots of love.