A Year of Shaunanagins Quotes (or, how I was awkward, contradictory, and occassionally insightful during 2013)

Just went through all my posts from 2013 (all of them. yeah. I know.) to see how this little piece of blogland unfolded over the past year.

Here’s how it went down.

– – –

First, I got really motivated.

Because in the end, my goal is to wake up each morning, look the world in the eye, and say “What, Life? Yeah, I’d tap that.” – I Have Chosen My Word for 2013 (and it’s going to make for one interesting year)

It’s easy to become defeated when you see other people doing cool things.  But what if you were to take that pang of ‘This is something I find awesome.  Noted.’  and turn it into motivation?  – Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.

Then, I became a big advocate for awareness and listening and storytelling…

Here’s what we need to do: Care about the stories. Let them speak. Respect the storytellers. Share your own stories, if you want to. And whatever your story is, however different it is than someone elses, whatever you choose to do with it: You aren’t broken. You’re just another person with a story and a body, and no matter what, those two things belong to you and you alone. – Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”

In my view, there should be two kinds of people present with any social issue you want to address: The storytellers, who have experienced an issue firsthand (aka the people who Know), and those who try to understand the stories (aka the people who Listen). –  The Truth about Awareness

We care a lot about “Freedom of Speech,” which is great, but it’s easy to forget that with Freedom of Speech comes the Freedom to Listen. – Making Friends Who Disagree With You (is the healthiest thing in the world)

There’s something dangerous about leading with anger (however justified), instead of stories.  Or with accusations instead of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, passionate people willing to call out society’s bs are AWESOME.  But they’re way more awesome when they come with a side order of compassion, a willingness to gently guide people to awareness. – Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

I would much rather read the story of someone who can’t bear to hold that story in. I want to read words which are necessary to someone–not a sprint towards an empty wordcount, not a checkmark on the bucket list. – The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

Though it was pretty clear that I didn’t have many answers myself.

What are “friends,” then?  I don’t know. – The People Who I Know (But Don’t Really Know).

I really, really like hostels. I don’t know why.  – 10 Reasons My First Day in Halifax Will Be (Really, Really) Hard to Top

When I was a kid, I tried to run away from home (all. the. time.).  I don’t know why. – In which I am “Vagabond Chic”

For some reason, I don’t blog about music much. I don’t know why.  – Five Reasons I’m Optimistic About the Future of Music

So, how could I not know?  I mean really, really know what they had gone through. And what they were still going through. Until they wrote it down, I’ll admit that I really didn’t. – The Truth about Awareness

That didn’t stop me from having some strong opinions…

Certain types of people are more favoured for success in this world. I’m not saying that’s always right. I’m just saying that if you’re talking about discrimination based on personality type, you need to broaden your argument. – The Not-Really-One-or-the-Other Vert

Before we all flutter to the comment sections with our personal stories and claims of “I work harder than you work,” let’s get real:  You should really hire some of us.  You should really not hire others. Everyone born in this twenty-year period is not meant for the same job, nor are they bound to infect workplaces with the same “sins.” – Kids. These. Days.

The universal definition of “woman with values” is almost entirely based on what a Lady consumes, or lets into herself, rather than what she creates. How weird is that? – What Does it Mean to be a “Woman with Values,” Exactly?

I’d think sports fans, of all people, should be able relate to how deeply symbols can manifest in our lives.  How important a team is to a community.  How important it is to let that team be inclusive and, you know, not racist. – I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt

It’s a pretty straight-forward formula: As soon as we are able to pronounce our moral superiority to someone, we are able to label them as “other,” we are able to fear them, we think we can do whatever we want in retaliation…It’s messed up. It’s totally messed up.  When we let the worst of what we see and hear set the standard for our own behaviour, autonomy, and responsibility to each other, we lose. When we refuse to learn from the unsettling things we see, and point fingers instead, we lose. – How NOT to Respond to the Abercrombie & Fitch Remarks

Do feminists have a right to be mad? Yes.
Do they have a reason to be mad? Yes.
Should they shout it from the rooftops?  If they’re willing, yes, perhaps they should.
But I have to be honest: Jaded rooftop shouters scare me, especially when I can’t quite understand what they’re shouting about. I tend to tune them out.  Even if they’re right.
– Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

Including a whole bunch of thoughts about the whole “learning” thing itself.

Why is it that important places like study rooms, lecture halls, churches, government institutions and courts so often lack windows?  Are we really expecting people who can’t even see the sky or the ground to be responsible authorities on the world’s direction? – Life, Learning, and “Windowless Cave Education”

I’m not saying  that every activity needs to involve a life lesson. What I am saying is that life lessons need to involve more activity. – Life, Learning, and “Windowless Cave Education”

Terms like “studying French” or “learning a new language” always sound so simple–they don’t properly embody the embarrassment, frustration and word-wrestling I’ve been doing these last few years. It’s a rewarding process, but it always plays games with my confidence. Or, at least, I always play games with my confidence. – Quebec, You Make Me Self-Conscious (But I’m Just Being Silly)

I have already learned things [from traveling]. Very personal, real things. Things I can actually take home with me. I hate how romantic and empty that sounds, like I just skipped through a field of roses, and found God, and “Oh, friends, you wouldn’t understand.” I don’t want to be one of those people who talk about traveling like there’s no other way to live or learn (though, if you have the resources, I highly recommend it). – That Awkward Moment When You Start Finding Yourself

I did some reflecting on relationships and people-stuff…

Welcome to human relationships, friends–they’re weird. When people take their clothes off, they get even weirder. So no, they don’t need your judgement. They need your love, and they need God’s love. Please leave the close-mindedness at the door. – Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”

“People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” Let’s add on to that pretty little cliche, shall we?  People also come into your life just to laugh with you when you awkwardly trip up the stairs.  Or to silently inspire your next haircut.  Or to just be attractive.  Or to be intriguing.  Or to remind you that you need, need, need to come up with better ice breaker lines. – The People Who I Know (But Don’t Really Know).

Though personally, I was a hot mess with the whole social interaction thing.

I can’t seem to get it quite right. Yesterday, I parted ways with a dear coworker by saying: “Have a good one! And by ‘one,’ I mean, like, life!” Yeah. That sounded exactly as awkward out loud as it did in your head. –  An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye

Another friend, who evidently sucks less than I do, tried to strike up a meaningful closing conversation over dinner:
“So, where do you think you’ll be in five years?”
“Pregnant and sad.”
What kind of response is that? [I wondered. As I said it. Out loud. I didn’t even miss a beat, you guys.]
  An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye

I probably won’t even stay in touch (empty promises 1; Shauna 0).  I want to, but I don’t really know what “stay in touch” even means. –  An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye

“Well, I guess, I mean, that gives you an excuse to buy a new one?” I offered. The world’s most house wife-y response to a broken bong. – How I Learned the Ukelele on a Train (and other transient tales)

I found the musician sitting in the “Activity Car” after her set, and approached her cautiously. “‘Scuze me. Can I ask you something, maybe?” As if she could say no. As if we weren’t stuck on a train together for two days. – How I Learned the Ukelele on a Train (and other transient tales)

Sure, a year is a long time and a blog like this is hard work…but also, how do you go up to someone and say “Yeah, I have this website where I write about myself. I’ve been doing it for a year. So no big deal.” – One Year of Blogging!

I also wrote a lot about identity…

I don’t think we should restrict identity to the things that “count” as milestones. – People are Trees, Not Timelines

We have to branch out. Timelines are great at telling base, simple stories…but they’re not so great at telling the whole truth. And when it comes to our own identity, our own History, we deserve the Truth. – People are Trees, Not Timelines

We all wear so many costumes, and speak so many languages. It’s an interesting process,  playing a role (not that you’re faking it, but still, it’s playing) every time you walk into a certain place, or consider a certain person. –  Living Between the Lines

In some ways, I think identity is somewhere in the cracks. It’s not in the office, or at a friend’s house, or at family dinner. It’s in those first few seconds when you wake up and aren’t quite sure where you are yet. When you’re driving—just driving, and for a moment you stop thinking about where you’re going. When someone touches you on the shoulder, or the hand, and your body unconsciously warms to the contact…When the pressure melts away for a few seconds, all that’s left to do is practice being human.  –  Living Between the Lines

“Who am I today?”  That’s all that really matters, in the end. Screw the coulda/woulda/shoulda.  Screw worrying.  Screw the fact that I do both of those things…until that mantra walks in and gives me a role to play. Today. – Five Sentences That Changed My Life

Whatever your offering is, you should do it. Do it actively. Do it because you need to. Do it because it will make the world a better place. Do it because it’s who you are. And most importantly: Do it because you wouldn’t be able to stop, even if I told you to. – The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

Though I had a little bit of trouble explaining myself.

I hope that you can be a blogger without having to pretend you know everything–or worse, having to pretend you can put that “everything” into a list.  – (Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

Mostly, my life isn’t about quick tips. Neither is yours.  It’s about celebrating and mourning, sometimes at the same time. It’s about getting confused and getting the giggles. It’s the word “Oops,” and it’s the word “Love,” and it’s feeling unsure. – (Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

 “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  Of course you don’t. Of course I don’t. Look at those loaded words, momma, look: “know,” “want,” “be,” and *shudder* “grow up.” – Because Easy Answers are Boring

Oh, growing up. That is something else I wrote a lot about.

It’s no longer my parents and teachers telling me to what time it is.  It’s more of a voice in my head, reminding me that this next step is BIG. And, naturally, that I need to be BIG to greet it effectively. Though really, I don’t know what exactly being BIG means. – Busy Being a “Big Kid”

As we grow up, we have to change to greet our new discoveries. We adapt. Mostly, we learn what we can expect from people, and what we can expect from ourselves.  That we all need a little help sometimes, but we still shouldn’t count on anyone. That we are more capable than we ever thought possible, but that we can’t do it alone–though, some days, we’re going to really have to try. – Busy Being a “Big Kid”

We all have little moments like that, I think–whether we’re 7 year old kids, 20 something college students, middle aged mommas, maybe even as we trek through the much later years.  Wondering what comes next. Working through what we do, but optimistically unsure of where we are going. – Because Easy Answers are Boring

Most lives don’t fit into any sort of beginning-middle-end box.  Even if they do, most of us are probably just hanging out in the “middle” looking for reasons and analyzing our lives like it’s the “end”.  And most people don’t quite fit where they are, at least not all the time. – Thursday Night Brainwaves: How DID I get here?

And, apparently, my brain played a lot of tricks on me:

When I have never done something, sometimes I assume it’s because I could never do it. This is one of the lies my brain tells. – Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

Of course, nothing is actually over. That’s just my brain playing tricks again. A year well spent is an achievement, not a loss. Note to self. – One Year of Blogging!

Ten thousand hours, the song repeated to my tired brain. If you’ve practiced for ten thousand hours, you should be an expert. That’s how it works, right? – Quebec, You Make Me Self-Conscious (But I’m Just Being Silly)

My faith also seeped into a couple posts:

I am thoroughly convinced of two things: Life is a joke. And life is sacred. – Taking “Canada Class” (or, how my sense of humour runs my schedule)

I intentionally attend churches which disagree with each other. I do this for the same reason I wear one earring that says “Oui” and one which says “Non” every Sunday–because Truth usually hangs out “somewhere in the middle.” – A Tale of Two Churches: Living in DC During the Gay Marriage Showdown

I don’t know that someone should aspire to believe anything, least of all anything supernatural. I would much rather be a woman who constantly uses the brain God gave her–even if that means that her idea of “God” has to change as she learns things. – What Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

We are fragile, mortal, reactive, aware, sensitive—but we should not be afraid. – On Fear, Love, and Bombs in Boston.

My faith is getting more and more present-tense oriented (“Will everything be okay? Let’s go with yes. Even if it’s not okay, it’s okay. Right, Jesus?”).  – That Awkward Moment When You Start Finding Yourself

After awhile, all these wonderful friends and prayers and instincts sent the message that “You can trust God. You can trust some people. You can trust yourself.”  No one learns to believe something as crazy as that alone. – Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

Also, I seemed to think that abstract ideas could “meet” each other?

Basically, regret is what happens when empathy meets taking responsibility. – Living With No Regrets (is bullshit)

 The Taboo Tab is working.  It’s showing the next generation what happens when creative writing meets community meets compassion. – In Which I Ask You For Help (and may I say, you are looking LOVELY today).

What I do want to be is a woman of grace–you know, that thing that happens when personal values meet interpersonal compassion.  – What Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

I used to play the‘How DID I get here?’ game all the time–when growing pains meet the travel bug, you rarely know completely where you are, how you got there, or what to think about it. – Thursday Night Brainwaves: How DID I get here?

But through all my awkwardness, I stayed intensely grateful. Especially to you readers, because you’re awesome.

Every time someone thrust their story into my hands and said “Here, have it. Edit it. Show it to the world.” they made an active decision to share themselves with this project and this community. And, thanks to the amazing nature of this community, it became a safe place to talk and to learn. So much trust. So much love. – (On the Taboo Tab) One Year of Blogging!

THANK YOU for an amazing year. Thank you for reading. I love all the comments you leave me, and they make my day (actually, now they make my year). You rock. Seriously. – One Year of Blogging!

I needed a ton of help, coming from all sides–from upsides, downsides, from inside, outside, from everywhere. Is this getting cheesy? I’m sorry. I promise it’s honest. I just owe a million thank yous. – Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

This offering only works as long as it’s me writing–me, needing to write, having something to say.  Not my arbitrary need-to-put-words-together.  Not a clog of cliches on the internet, stealing time from much more important words. Just me.  To you.  It really only seems to work as long as you are there reading.  Every time you stop by, you are accepting my selfish, crazy offering.  Thank you for that. – The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

Because, this:

I want to be the kind of woman who is thankful day by day, step by step. Whose thank yous aren’t loaded attempts to control the future, nor quiet warnings of her standards.   She will never say ‘This is good. If I am grateful for this step, can the next step be just as good, please?’  No; I want to be the kind of woman who is grateful because it is just who she is.  And when she says thank you, she simply means to say, ‘That step was good. You helped make it good. Grazie, gracias, merci.’  What Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

Oh, and here are my 5 most hit/shared/commented on/liked posts of the year:

1) Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”

2) 7 More Reasons WestJet is Basically the Mr. Rogers of Canadian Airlines

3) Meet the Neighbors: A Guide to Canada for Americans

4) What Does it Mean to be a “Woman with Values,” Exactly?

5) Kids. These. Days.

– – –

That step was good.
You helped make it good.
Grazie, gracias, merci.

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How I Learned the Ukelele on a Train (and other transient tales)

My ukelele was out of tune.

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I was sitting on the train; alone in my section, as far as I could see. I had given up wrestling with the strings, and was resting my head on a soft area of my backpack.  An older woman came by, saw the instrument and asked if I wouldn’t play a song.  “It’s super out of tune,” I explained, sitting up and fiddling uselessly with the knobs.  “My little brother got a hold of it.”

That was a lie.  My little brother hadn’t touched the uke.  The screechy, stringy sound was entirely my fault–I had tried to tune it by ear in Toronto, and  failed miserably. But, oh ego, I didn’t want to admit that. “Maybe I’ll just get the musician to help me tune it when she’s done her set, if she knows how.”

“The musician?” The lady asked. I smiled and explained.  Along with wine tastings and trivia-filled talks, Via Rail hosts Canadian musicians who perform shows throughout the commute.  My train had enlisted a retired postwoman from Kingston, Ontario who played folksy guitar.

I found the musician sitting in the “Activity Car” after her set, and approached her cautiously. “‘Scuze me. Can I ask you something, maybe?” As if she could say no. As if we weren’t stuck on a train together for two days.

“Mhm?”

“I have this ukelele, with me, I’m trying to tune,” I stumbled, repeating the lie about my brother. “Do you know what notes the strings are supposed to be?”

She looked confused.  “Oh!  Um, well, the bottom string is an A, and…hold on.” She dug into the seat beside her, pulling out her own small ukelele case.

“I could bring it here, if that’s easier?” I offered. “It’s just in my car, back there.”

She nodded in my direction. I power-walked to my seat, snatching the pale brown uke. I gave it a quick strum–wow, that is really, embarrassingly bad. Like,  I can’t believe I’m even going to show this to someone bad.  I braced myself for condescension, the way I do when I’m going to the dentist and haven’t really been flossing, or when I go for a haircut with major split ends.

“Oh, wow, this IS out of tune,” she said, twisting the strings into sanity. I sheepishly agreed and apologized because, well, that’s what you do when someone smarter than you shakes their head and tells you what you already know. She just laughed at me.  “No, I mean, it’s fine, it’s just really out of tune. It happens.” She finished screwing a few knobs and handed the uke back to me. I exhaled, relieved to have a working instrument.  I strummed a C, then a G, then an A.  In response,  the musician produced her own ukelele–the same type as mine, a Mahalo, but hers was green.  She picked a few strings. “Wanna jam?” She asked.

Shit. I DID want to, of course, but now I really had to paint myself amateur. When I told her I was new to the insturment–really, really new–she smiled at my insecurity once again. “So then, you want to learn something?”

And so we sat, for thirty minutes (probably longer), patiently strumming through folk songs. She sketched out chord diagrams and we played and replayed. I finally mastered “Home on the Range.” We hi-fived.

“You know, George Harrison always traveled with two ukeleles.” She said. “He would just hand one to someone in an airport, or something, and they would play. Can you imagine that, being that person, doing this kind of thing with George Harrison?”  She grinned, satisfied that we were somehow part of a great tradition. Later, I would hear her recount our lesson to another passenger and cite the same Beatles story.

Beautiful meals, on board wine tastings, champagne and h’ors d’oeuvres, live entertainment, and now a free music lesson…that train ride was the real deal. Most of  this was because I was traveling in “sleeper class,” which is a big step up from “economy class.”

Seriously though.
Seriously though.

When I told her about my trip, my friend Caitlin all but demanded  that I travel in sleeper class, because “Shauna, it’s SO worth it.”  I refused at first, my budget was too tight, but there was a sale and the trip from Toronto to Winnipeg included two overnights, so I splurged for that portion of the trip.  I’m riding Economy the rest of my trip (en route to Saskatoon as I write this!), and it’s more than fine.  Still, “sleeper class” was a serious experience.

Economy class. Still awesome.
Economy class. Still awesome.

When we reached Winnipeg, I really didn’t want to get off of the train. I was having way too much fun aboard, and the city outside looked dingy and construction site-esque.  I struggled to find a Tim Horton’s upon arrival (somehow, I thought it would be easy), and struggled more to find a place which sold bus tickets. Finally, I made my way to the bus–I was staying with a woman from Couchsurfing, whose house was about a 10 minute ride from downtown.

I sat myself down at an empty seat near the back. The bus was nearly full, and it wasn’t long before someone sat down next to me: a young boy, maybe a year or two my junior, with sharp aboriginal features and faded brown skin.  He struck up a conversation by showing me his hand, which had scabs all over the knuckles: “See this?” He grinned. “Don’t drink and drive. Not any vehicle.”

“Oh. Dear. Ouch.” I threw him a polite smile, then looked out the window as the bus tumbled down a rough-looking Main Street.

“Yeah, yesterday was a shitty day for me,” He continued, clearly wanting a conversation. I motioned politely to his hand.

“Because of your accident?”

“No, no, that was last week. Yesterday, I was about to smoke a bowl, right, and I had it all packed and everything, right, and then, like, I just dropped my bong right there on the floor,” He mimed the accident.

“Oh. No. That…sucks. Was it expensive?” I had no idea what else to say. The woman across the way shot me a look; you aren’t from around here, are you?

“Naw, it was maybe like 30 bucks but like man, I was about to smoke a bowl and then–” He acted out the accident again. I watched as others on the bus nodded sympathetically, and tried to nod the same way.  Unfortunately, I am a terrible actress.

“Well, I guess, I mean, that gives you an excuse to buy a new one?” I offered. The world’s most house wife-y response to a broken bong.

He shrugged. “Guess, but it sucked. Where you from?” At this point I was pretty sure this kid was high, or drunk, or something. Even through his haze, he could tell that I was no local.

“Ottawa,” I said, then quickly added. “I’ve been here before, though. Visiting a family friend. Just busing to her house.” The lie slid off my tongue and covered me uncomfortably, like a heavy invisible armour.  I hate lying. Between the uke story and this, I was up to two falsehoods in one day.  I contented myself that this was just a safety precaution, that didn’t want to publicly proclaim my vulnerability. The woman across the way finally spoke up.

“Well, be careful ’round here. Like, y’shouldn’t go walking down Main Street by yourself any time of day, especially at night.” She said. I looked out the window at the street in question. Her advice was pretty self evident. “Winnipeg isn’t the most dangerous city in Canada anymore, but like, I’m pregnant right? So I’m still pretty nervous walking down the street after I babysit my niece.”

I wanted to congratulate her on her pregnancy, or thank her for her local insight, but instead I just sat there looking like a frightened kitten. I pounced off the bus like one, too, scurrying towards the street my host lived on. I saw the street sign and turned.

Houses. Pretty little houses. Cut grass. Laughing children.

I exhaled.

You guys, I have never been so excited to see suburbs. It was ridiculous.

A French couple opened the door upon my arrival. They were staying under the same roof–live in travel buddies!–and had actually been on the same train as me.  The host had left a note and snacks for the three of us in the kitchen.  My room was cosy and comfortable.  I felt safe. And when you’re traveling around, talking to strangers, STAYING with strangers, and sleeping on a different air mattress every other night…feeling safe is something you never take for granted.

You don’t take showers for granted, either. And you certainly don’t take live-in travel buddies or beautiful, free-spirited hosts for granted. Getting clean and walking about was just about all I did in Winnipeg, but I was fine with that (most of the time, anyways).

Now for a series of confusing images which sum up my time in Winnipeg:

Kareoke and Bubble Tea. For those lunch breaks where you really just want to sing alone in a creepy room.
Karaoke and Bubble Tea. Open noon to 11 pm. The home of Asian small business stereotypes.

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Terrifying stained glass.
Terrifying stained glass.

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I never did fall in love with Manitoba. This sucked more than it should’ve, mostly because I have silly expectations and want Canada to be magical and beautiful and happy all the time. Sometimes, though, it’s just real. Or weird. Or even a little dangerous.

But I wanted to see all of Canada, even the STI ad campaigns and rough streets and suburbs and shopping malls.  And it’s nice to know that, no matter where I seem to go in this country, no matter how comfortable (or uncomfortable) the place, I always seem to find somewhere to temporarily call home. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

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“Home” in Winnipeg, thanks to my amazing host.
And
And, of course, “home” on the train.

How I Learned the Ukelele in a Laundromat (and other East Coast stories)

An update on the “vagabond chic” look: My original “disheveled at the airport” collection is so last week. Make way for the super-sexy “laundromat after a rainstorm,” fashion fans…

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I try, really.
Features of the collection include a messy ponytail, rolled up jeans, and tired, wet feet. I’m also pretty sure there’s sand in my backpack–a souvenir from two beachy days in Prince Edward Island.

I modeled the collection in Moncton. The small, humid laundromat was stop #2 on a quest for clean clothes, and I greeted it by getting barefoot and playing the ukelele with a friend I met two days ago. Stop #1 had been a shop on the corner with a large sign reading “LAUNDROMAT.” That place, they told us, was actually not a laundromat. It was a cool-kid cafe/bar called “Laundromat.”

I’m not hip enough to understand these things.

Pictured here: Not actually a laundromat
Pictured here: Not actually a laundromat

When we finally found a place with quarter-devouring washing machines and dryers, we made ourselves nice and comfortable. Waiting for our clothes to wash, we braved the stormy (and very empty) streets to seek out cheap pizza, shitty wifi, and a compact, Disney-themed umbrella from the drug store.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye to my new friend and jump on a train to Quebec. I actually jumped, you guys. It was a thirteen hour train ride and, oh-my, was I ever excited for it.

The train is the real heart of my trip. All these big adventures and bigger revelations are just spaces in between.

I made small talk with the cute guy in front of me at the station (“Oh, you’re from Ottawa? Me too!”) and, as he briefly disappeared from sight, I jumped on board with a wicked smile on my face. I bought a ham sandwich and little container of white wine on the train, and “je m’excuse, je m’excuse” passed by the friendly French man beside me. The man smelled like smoke and had a giant skull and crossbones inked onto his leg, but his voice was gentle and his smile was genuine and –yes! He kept speaking French to me even after hearing my troubled accent.

And so begins my life for the next month:

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The train reached Quebec at 6 am, and I dragged myself through the tourist-covered streets until hostel check-in time and–oh! Here I am! Sitting at a hostel bar in la belle province, reflecting on the last two days.

(That’s a lie. I’m actually sitting here feeling way-too conscious of my feet, way-too happy about this beer, and way-too guilty that I fell asleep during a bus tour today. For the sake of the segue, though, let’s just say I’m reflecting on the last two days.)

To be reflected upon.
To be reflected upon.

In the days since my last post, I finished up in Halifax and headed to Prince Edward Island. I arrived in Charlottetown at noon(ish) Wednesday, and left at 8:15 Friday morning.

Translation? I had 44 hours in PEI. Ready, set, go.

I don’t know what I was thinking when I scheduled my trip. I’m pretty sure I was bitter–I always hated labeling the damn province in grade school geography. Or maybe I looked at the province on a map and said “Psh, that’s small. I could walk across that in 44 hours.”

Either way, I didn’t give myself enough time on the Island. Not even close.

Thanks to the people I encountered, however, it was (limited) time well spent. I suppose that’s part of this whole traveling thing, right? “What was your name, again? Right. That. Let’s do something cool.” My people-luck went as follows: I crashed on the air mattress of a wonderful girl I knew in high school (thanks, Alex and Danny!). I adventured with another girl I met on couchsurfing, Amy, who was being toted around town by a local named Bob.

(Amy was crashing in Bob’s spare bedroom. Everyone, it turns out, crashes in Bob’s spare bedroom. If you’re ever in Charlottetown, you should too. More on that later.)

On Thursday morning, I walked past an old Protestant cemetery. An artist, Carl Philis (potter by trade), spotted my interest right away. Carl had a paint can in his hand, and was working on the cemetery’s restoration. “If you come by some time later when you’re free, I can give you a tour around.”

I knew there would be no later. “Well…I’m free now, I guess. Can you give me a tour now?”

And he freaking did. His boss stood by smiling as he spent at least an hour showing me the history of PEI, stone by stone. I wasn’t used to such unscheduled hospitality.

“In Ontario, everyone’s just in a hurry to be late,” he explained. “It’s not like that here.”

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He was right. When I arrived an hour later than expected to visit my Islander aunt, she was only happy I was there at all.

Bob was most flexible of all. From beginning to end, his main priority was for Amy and I to have a good PEI experience. I told him I was an Anne of Green Gables fan as a kid, and he happily drove us to Cavendish for the day. He showed us the tourist-y “Avonlea Village” and the trails around Green Gables in the after-hours, saving us from paying for the tourist traps. Bob was a Green Gables tour guide in a past life, and is an expert host in this life.

People-wise, I hit the jackpot in PEI. When my aunt told me she had sending me prayers for “travel mercies,” I practically fell all over her.

“It’s working! It’s working! Keep it up!”

Poking my presence into Bob's "map of guests"
Poking my presence into Bob’s “map of guests”
Yeah. This guy hosts hardcore.
Hardcore hosting.

To recap, a few pieces of advice if you ever visit Charlottetown:

  1. Stay with someone awesome and central.
  2. Look up Bob. Seriously. I will put you in touch personally, just drop me a line.
  3. Eat potatoes. And seafood. And donair. Dude, just eat.
  4. Go to the beach. This will be easy, since it seems that a good chunk of PEI is straight beach.
  5. Clap your hands and stomp your feet at a Ceilidh. If you don’t know what that is…look up what a Ceilidh is first. Then go to one.
  6. Talk to any and everyone. Chances are, they will talk to you right back (and then some).

And with that…

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Hammer Quebecer time.

(How I Failed At) Seeking Canadian Comedy

Let me start by admitting that I am a born overanalyzer. I can totally find symbolism that doesn’t actually exist. I’m so good at reading subtext, I end up creating subtext.

Sometimes this leads to insight. Mostly, though, it leads to my mother saying “Pffffft yeah, okay then, kid.”

This weekend, I was at it again. I was at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, desperately seeking a thoughtful, patriotic story I could tie in with my cross-Canada trip (or, as my Eastern European grandfather called it in an email last week, “the BACK-PK TRAVEL GO WEST YOUNG WOMAN “).  I had been watching Canadian comedians like Jay Barachul and Mark Little (who you should all check out because he is hilarious) at the Festival for days, and had a notebook full of words ready for me to twist outside of their actual meaning.

My “Media” badge was staring me down. Canada. Comedy. There has to be a story here.

I considered digging into the CRTC, or geoblocking, or something else technical/policy related.  I collected evidence against the infuriating Vanity Fair article “Of Moose and Men,” which claims Canadians aren’t funny.  Maybe, I could approach bilingualism and language in comedy.  Or maybe, I could pick out enough Canada-specific humour; lay on the superficial psuedo-identity.

Basically, I had it in my head that there is such a thing as “Canadian Comedy.”  There has to be. I just needed to figure it out. Maybe sit and eat timbits watch reruns of Kids in the Hall and This Hour Has 22 Minutes for a week straight. You know, research.

Despite this enthusiasm, I struggled to find a real story at the Festival.  I figured my opportunity would come on Friday night’s Homegrown Comic Competition, an annual showcase of young Canadian standup. This was going to be a goldmine of Canadianisms! The advertisement had a maple leaf and everything!

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The good news is that there was a commonality between several of the performers, something beyond just Citizenship. There was something that stuck out, something unique that that really resonated with the audience.

The bad news is, that thing was jokes about menstruation.

I’m good at finding meaning in just about everything. But I’m not that good.

I had to accept it. Maybe Mark Little is funny because he is funny, not because he is from Halifax.  Maybe jokes about a national chain store make Canadians laugh because local references rock, not because of an unwritten “Tim Horton’s Brotherhood.”

In a free country, chances are someone will be using that freedom to make people laugh.  In a capitalist country, this “someone” will probably go wherever that skill is most marketable. And in a massive country (say, around 9,984,670 km²), different people in different places will probably find different ways to make people laugh. So yeah, Canada has entertainers. And those entertainers are a big cultural export, especially in the American biz.

I felt deflated. Unless I wanted to sound off about Canadian broadcasting policy, or confirm that Just For Laughs is an amazing festival, it seemed that my nationalistic meaning-finding was just about over.

But then I remembered an earlier conversation, some small talk with an Australian guy in my hostel room.  We were talking about our plans for the night, and I mentioned the Homegrown Competition.

“Oh! That sounds cool. Canadians are funny.”

“Yeah? Really?  I mean, yes, but…yeah?”

(Note: I’m very articulate when talking to strangers. That morning, I spent a full minute trying to pronounce my own name as I fumbled through awkwardly introducing myself to Dan O’Brien from cracked.com. So much charm, so little time.)

He nodded. “Yeah, well, that’s what they’re known for. Funnier than Americans, that’s for sure.”

The guy had hit my Canadian comedy fan g-spot.  I melted, shooting an appreciative grin his way.

I couldn’t prove what he said to be true.  I didn’t know what it meant or where he got it, really. I agreed because I am patriotic, and because Canadians have a pretty good track record of making me laugh–not because I could prove he was actually right.  There is no defensible argument for borders and geography affecting hilarity, unless you make some long-winded historical argument or factor in the education system to an extreme.

I’m not willing to do that here.

I didn’t find my story about “Canada. Comedy.” on stage at the Just For Laughs Festival. It wasn’t a certain brand of funny, something I could understand by over-analyzing comedians and collecting quotes. Instead, my story was in that hostel room.  It was the fact that the Festival exists at all, and that people from around the world have heard of it.  The fact that the Homegrown Competition is a thing.  The fact that people from other countries believe Canadians to be funny (how great of a reputation is that?!).

Mostly, it’s the fact that fans like me get excited by even the idea that Canada has an identity, and that the identity involves funny people.

And so, with very little proof or reasoning, I will keep considering Canadians funny. Or maybe, I will keep considering funny people funny, and get weirdly excited when they are Canadian.

Also, this foreign stranger saying “Canadians are funnier than Americans,” is the best pick-up line I’ve heard in months.

You want Canadian identity? That’s a good start.

Taking “Canada Class” (or, how my sense of humour runs my schedule)

I am thoroughly convinced of two things: Life is a joke. And life is sacred.

Because of this, I love-love-love my education. But also because of this, I have a habit of taking courses because they sound funny.

Just funny. Not relevant to my interests (though, usually, they also fall into that category).  Certainly not relevant to my degree.  While sifting through possible electives, I eagerly dropkick away any chance at learning “something important” in favour of being able to chuckle inside my head.

Life is sacred; Life is a joke.

Last year, I took a class called “Jesus of Nazareth.” I could have taken something in my program. Or, if I felt so inclined, checked out comparative religion, the history of Christianity as a whole, or really anything with a more convenient time slot.

Nah.

Instead, I chose instead to sit in a windowless lecture hall from 4-7 pm every Wednesday, tracking the historical Jesus and wishing I could read Coptic.

Why? Because I wanted to be able to yell “I’m going to Jesus class!” to my roommate as I sprinted out the door at 3:30.

She laughed. I laughed.

Tuition well spent.

This summer, I decided to take a class called “Canadian Society” for this same reason. It’s not as funny-sounding as Jesus class, I know, but between “Canada class” and “Cold War class,” I am getting a few of the raised eyebrows and “*snort* what?!” that I so crave.

Of course, my incessant need to bring out the sacred/funny in everything isn’t the only motivator. Canada Class is also supposed to prepare me for my trip across the country in August. Not because I expect travel advice from a jeans-‘n-teeshirt wielding sociology prof, but because it relates to the whole point of my trip:  to crack the code of the “Canadian experience.”  I want to understand what it means wear my Maple Leaf with so much pride. I want to come home with a nuanced, complicated, amusing, and (hopefully) optimistic view of the country. Somewhere in there, I hope my jokes about Canadian-isms will improve.

A little bit of funny. A little bit of sacred. A whole lot of time on the train.

I pulled out the term Canadian identity while discussing my plans with Michelle last week.  “Our Grade 12 English teachers would be so proud,” she grinned, tossing me a friendly eyeroll.

This is the price I pay for hanging out with people I knew as a teenager. Michelle can pinpoint the exact childhood influence which planted the words in my mouth.  In this case, my summer plans are the victim of too much Rick Mercer, a Grade 12 English unit, and hundreds of hours spent standing for the national anthem in public school.

I’m sure studying Canadian history for several years helped, too.

So did living in the United States, answering questions on behalf of “Canada” and “Canadians.”  I leapt eagerly to represent my country, but I often fell flat. I filled my friends in on Ontario 101, disguising it as Canada 101. Sure, I had studied other areas using geography textbooks and google searches, but who am I kidding? I haven’t seen this country. I love it, it’s a part of me, I talk about it all-the-freakin-time, but…I haven’t seen it. My insights are incomplete.

I want to get it right next time.

So here I am. Taking Canada class. Taking a train across the country. Sociology is new to me, and I find it frustrating at times–I like patterns, but my brain tends to reject most large-scale generalizations.  I’m much better at finding the exception to the rule.  So I sit in fifth row, silently Wikipedia-ing counter-arguments to what the professor says (I don’t bring them up, not in a 100 person classroom, but I like to know that they exist). I wince every time someone makes a massive blanket statement or misconstrues a historical event.

But I’m learning about Canada.  I think I am, anyways.  At the very least, I’m learning how to think about Canada.  I’m learning that approaching the collective identity of a MASSIVE nation won’t be easy. Especially not in a single month.

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This will be interesting.

This is all to say that, yes, there is a reason behind my crazy plan to take a month off and backpack across the country.  Yes, I am doing the prep work to make it happen–and that prep work includes “Canada class.”  I guess we will see how that goes.

The prep work also includes booking train rides. This I have been able to (finally, finally) figure out.

Currently, my August looks like this:

Halifax –> PEI –> Moncton –> Quebec –> Montreal –> Toronto –> Winnepeg –> Saskatoon –> Edmonton –> Vancouver/Victoria –> Calgary

…And home in time for dinner.

Whew. Ready, set, go.

An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye

Well.

I guess this is the part where I reflect on the last four months.

This is gonna get weird, friends.  This is the “excited to go, but sad to leave” part.  The part where I pull out my uncomfortable cop-out response to “Are you ever coming back?”, and you prepare to dodge my inevitable “Are you ever going to come visit me in Canada?”

Maybe. Someday. Who-the-bleep-knows, right? Hah. Hah. Hah.

On “goodbye” weekend, I am queen of the awkward laugh.

I can’t seem to get it quite right. Yesterday, I parted ways with a dear coworker by saying: “Have a good one! And by ‘one,’ I mean, like, life!”

…that sounded exactly as awkward out loud as it did in your head.

He responded with a lovely speech about how great it’s been, how I’ll be missed, how his door is always open.  I looked at the ground and said something stupid like “Teehee, gee, thanks. Don’t know why I would ever be down there, but hey, you never know.”

I could’ve just said “Ditto!” and smiled.  I could’ve mentioned “I’ll miss you, too, dude.” Or found some way to explain how epic my time with these co-workers had been, how much I care about them, how these four months have genuinely changed my life.

But I did none of that.  I probably won’t even stay in touch (empty promises 1; Shauna 0).  I want to, but I don’t really know what “stay in touch” even means.

Another friend, who evidently sucks less than I do, tried to strike up a meaningful closing conversation over dinner:

“So, where do you think you’ll be in five years?”

“Pregnant and sad.”

What kind of response is that? [I wondered. As I said it. Out loud. I didn’t even miss a beat, you guys.]

So begins a long string of goodbyes.  I’m waiting for a few of them, though I don’t doubt for a moment they will be just as strange. And since I finally, finally got my camera working, the strangeness is being recorded.

This goes into the category of "things that make goodbyes harder."
This goes in the category of “things that warm my heart…and make goodbyes WAY harder.”

A-and, like clockwork, Expedia just emailed me a reminder of my flight. At the same time, my friend Niki messaged me to make plans for Tuesday–Tuesday!  Tonight, I’m going to clumsily follow a “Lincoln Assassination” walking tour, the second of two attempts to get my tourist on via DC by Foot before I leave the city on Monday.

Monday.

What game are you playing, Time?