5 Things I Learned About Canada After Traveling From Sea to Sea

It’s Canada Day(!!)

As usual, my love for this country is on overdrive.

Despite the dark parts of our history (there are many, no doubt), I do hold a lot of hope and pride in my heart for good ol’ Canada. It’s nuanced and critical, but it’s there.

This is my first Canada Day since I did my cross-country train tour last August. I suppose that should make me feel like I have some level of insight on this country. Not so much. The more I have learned and seen of this country the less I want to make general claims about it. Even writing this seems a bit strange.

BUT BUT BUT, there are five things that I observed that felt pretty solid. So here goes. Just for you, just for Canada Day. Let’s listicle this bad boy.

1. Canadian humour? I think it’s a thing.

I met a lot of funny people on my trip. Good storytellers, great attitudes. At the Just For Laughs festival, I tried (with little success) to crack the code of Canadian comedy. While that experiment fell flat, the people I met as I traveled across this country gave me more of a clue.

The humour in Canada seemed to be a really unique mix of joy and sarcasm. I know satire is often characterized as a dry, cold humour, but the sarcasm I felt throughout Canadian seemed almost warm. I met so many people across this country who looked at everything with a wink of “Eh, this is life! And it’s ridiculous!”

Which it is. Living in Canada is kind of ridiculous. The weather, the empty space, the strange array of cultural indicators (a leaf and poutine and hockey and whatnow?).  Canada also has the unique position of having a lot of rural spaces, small towns, and harsh winters…while also having a literacy rate of 99% and high scores on international education rankings. I’m sure the doesn’t hurt the development of a unique kind of outdoorsy wit.


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2. Community is everywhere.

Everywhere I went in Canada, the communities I visited seemed to offer community in relatively the similar ways–survival, sports, music, food, drink, repeat. Obviously events varied based on size and geography, but generally it was pretty status quo–downtown parades and fireworks on special occasions, community theater in the warmer months, concerts in the park, sports bars with hockey specials. In Halifax, the experience made me seriously question why I didn’t just do more of these things at home.

That said, I found that community often wasn’t a super important value for folks in Canadian cities.  I’m guessing that’s because “survival,” which is historically at the heart of most Canadian communities, has become less and less an issue (thanks, indoor heating and modern medicine). We all are relatively free and mobile and proudly different, so sometimes it feels like we don’t seek each other out as much.

But we do still need each other. And the lucky thing is that community is available, and it is worth pursuing. I found it literally everywhere I went, and it was awesome.
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3. Oh, and French is also everywhere.

My whole life, I was fed this ugly lie that there are only French Canadians in Quebec. No where else.

Turns out, that is so very wrong.


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Seriously, if I ever have kids, I’m raising those buggers to be bilingual. I underestimated the Frenchness of this country so much. It’s everywhere. When I went to the French quarter of Winnipeg, no one was speaking a lick of English. Not to mention New Brunswick, or Northern Ontario. I even met a tour group of French first language kids from British Columbia recently.

Yes, Quebec has a lot of French people. But it also has more people, period. I loved Quebec culture and deeply enjoyed my time there, but I was wrong to assume that different versions of French Canadian language and culture didn’t stretch from sea to sea.

 

4. So. Much. Patriotism.

Oh, you thought Americans were proud?

Hah.

omg we're so great look guys here's an infographic
omg we’re so great look guys here’s an infographic

Yes, the United States is known for having overzealous residents who are patriotic to a tacky degree. But when I worked and lived in the States, it turned out that I was the one who patted myself on the back for my citizenship on a daily basis. Gay rights? Medicare? Cool looking federal police officers on horseback? Canadians think they are the coolest.

It can be annoying, I’m sure. I was basically like that pretentious friend everyone has who proudly collects records and forces obscure music on everyone…except instead of indie tunes, I was dealing out ketchup chips and maple syrup.
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5. We don’t really go to church.

Empty pews are certainly a major theme throughout the country. I don’t totally know how I feel about that–the United Church of Canada is a big part of my life, and I think the church can be a wonderful and remarkable space for people (see point #2). But I’m not necessarily disappointed in our emerging “churchlessness.” I’m mostly just curious about it.

I’ve heard a whole host of reasons for people moving away from the church, most of which are not only confined to Canada: Corruption, postmodernism, the perceived conflict between science and religion (or between social justice LGBT/women’s rights and religion), individual spirituality over community practice. I get all those things, I do.

But Canada is an interesting study simply because recent generations have been so privileged, so lucky, so educated and connected, so blessed….and so secular. I often wonder if there is a connection. Either way, it will be interesting how churches and people transform in this environment.

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Basically, I learned that Canada is the True North strong and free…and funny…and diverse…and proud…and changing all the time. All the time. Like, right now.

So, I guess we should probably go out and look at it pretty seriously and take good freakin’ care of it. Because whatever this country becomes…we’re a part of it.

Happy Canada Day, everyone!

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10 Reasons My First Day in Halifax Will Be (Really, Really) Hard to Top

1. This city smells so, so good.  Even as far out as the airport, your lungs and nose are filled instantly with the ocean breeze. I wish I could bottle up and take it with me.

2.  Seduced by the scent, I headed down to the Halifax boardwalk right after checking into my hostel. I had a book with me, thinking I might be able to find a place to read. Instead, I was greeted by crowds and music and stages. Halifax Buskerfest was in full swing! Fact: the only thing better than a magic show is a magic show with a lively East Coast audience and a beautiful ocean backdrop.

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3. Okay, so it was only day one, and I’m not usually inclined to feel homesick, but…if I do get to missing Ottawa, turns out the taste of home isn’t too far away.

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4. Public transportation rocks out here. Besides having the world’s nicest driver on the bus downtown from the airport, Halifax also offers a ferry ride across the harbour as part of their public transportation for $2.24 (take that, overpriced Toronto Island ferry). I was extra spoiled yesterday, because for the Natal Day festivities the ferry was free!

5. Oh yeah, Natal Day. Totally didn’t see that coming, either. The day I arbitrarily chose to fly in (because, honestly, the plane ticket was the cheapest) turned out to be right in the middle of Halifax’s birthday party. Natal Day, a huge commemorative festival for Halifax-Dartmouth, is on all weekend. I had no idea! And a kickass festival “created with a commitment to provide low cost/no cost activities wherever possible”? Basically a backpacker’s dream.

6. All this came together when one of the buskers, a percussionist, pulled out his drumsticks for an impromptu performance on the ferry ride to Dartmouth.  Using everything from seats to the ceiling to a woman’s wheelchair, street performer Peter Rabbit spontaneously took over the boat with his drumsticks as everyone watched in awe. I got a clip of it on my phone for you; Check it out:

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6. Seafood is obviously a staple of any coastal visit. I kicked mine off with something called “Maritime Poutine” from a street vendor. It was just like any other poutine, except topped with some way-too-good breaded fish. Amazing. Possibly heart attacking inducing, but amazing.IMG_0184[1]

7. Thanks to last night’s Natal Day festivities, I was able to check out some awesome free music, including the end of a free Joel Plaskett show and Slowcoaster (check them out in the video below). I’m always a sucker for a great concert (or two, or three…). It probably goes without saying, but the energy of the audiences out here is just amazing.

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8. Fireworks, you guys. On my first day in town, they were putting on an epic fireworks show off the bridge. So much luck.

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Obligatory blurry fireworks picture.

9. On the ferry back to Halifax after the fireworks and the music, I got to talking with an outgoing group of people–two of whom, I learned, had lived in Ottawa for a solid chunk of time. They invited me to come out with them for a few beers at a patio bar along the boardwalk. The live music and completely mixed crowd (everything from college kids to middle aged couples) was absolutely perfect, and my new friends couldn’t have been friendlier.  I wasn’t even allowed to buy my own beer that night; “East Coast hospitality,” they argued, ensuring I always had a Keith’s in my hand.

10. After splitting a cab with my unexpected hosts, I returned to the hostel I’m staying in. I really, really like hostels. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I know I kinda have to like hostels. This one is kind of divey, small, and old, but…I really like it. The couch I’m sitting on as I write this is soft and springy from overuse, and the walls are marked lovingly with pen and stickers.  It might not be luxury, but it’s a great place to lie my head (though I might need some earplugs to sleep through the snoring roommate tomorrow night!).

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Alright, day two. Hit me with your best shot!

(Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

I’m a sucker for clicking on blog posts ordered into “lists.”

It’s so bad, you guys. I hardly ever like them. Those “how-to-be-twenty-something” lists from Thought Catalog are particularly tempting.  “Yes! A guru! Go ahead, stranger on the internet, tell me how to do this right!”

I know they capitalize on my insatiable desire for direction. I know these things are rarely entertaining, never mind enlightening. I know I’m being lazy, looking for life lessons in bite-sized, unemotional lists. I know all that, but I still give the articles a shot every time because–“What if they know something I don’t know?! What if they have the secret?!”

Unfortunately, the list-ers rarely  give me the shot back. They don’t leave room for another right answer. Lists are facts, rules, and deadlines. They are filled with fluffy and contradictory advice, seemingly thrown together by the same eighteen year old on ego-steriods:

Be vulnerable and emotionally available in everything…but don’t go falling in love or expressing your feeling, kiddies.  Get your shit together, and do it now…or tomorrow, tomorrow works too. Screw society…oh, but be gentle, you might need to use it later.

To save you the reading, I’ll sum ALL the articles up for you:

Build yourself, and be self-aware. Keep calm. Everything in moderation. Be good to people. Be good to yourself.

You’re welcome.

Outside of those pseudo-commandments, I’m beginning to think that there is very little deep advice that we can fit into lists like that. I also think that one-size-fits all advice is rarely a good call, especially in the twenty-something circuit. After all, this is the period in your life where you’re supposed to be learning how to question rules and step-by-step guides, not blindly march towards them. This is the time to realize how different everyone is, and how the same everyone is, and how relative everything is.

How do you list out the ideal reaction to any of that?

You don’t. You twist through your own complicated, beautiful story of “LET’S JUST TRY THIS.” Sometimes you will find friends to join you, even if it’s just for a night. Sometimes you’ll like them, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll like yourself, sometimes you won’t.

And sometimes it will work. And sometimes it won’t.

These lists try to make things logical, when they are not.  I think that’s what kills me. They try to sell us on the idea that there is a right and wrong way to do things, when there are about a million of both. The ambiguity of “twenty-something” territory is far better suited to awkward songwriting, 2 am storytime, uncomfortably honest prayers, and radically number-less blog posts.

So what, then, are lists good for? They certainly make sense for practical stuff. Studying tips. How to navigate University. Finding an apartment. Cleaning your kitchen. Planning a trip. Getting a job. Quick tips, man.

I have a few of those myself. Perhaps I will write a list some time.

But it won’t be a list that tells you how to feel about your life. It won’t be a list of premature “tips” which are really just jaded rants, personal regret, and #humblebrags.

(Unless the regret is genuinely practical.  Like, say, don’t go a year without glasses if you really need glasses. Or, don’t buy a shitty laptop.)

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.  I hope imperfect people and listless lifestyles can fit into the conversation, because…well, because imperfect people and listless lifestyles are the definition of Conversation. And Conversation is what we really need, isn’t it?

Perhaps Sarah Bessey put it best:

I’m not too interested in telling anyone else how to live their lives anymore, let alone in six steps with a pinnable graphic.

Yeah. I’m not too interested in that, either. But I sure am interested in talking about it, and hearing about it, and writing about my tiny/young/fallible/idealistic corner of it. And maybe, sometimes, that will fit into a list.

But, 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.

And I’m sorry, but there’s no number on any of that.

10 Steps to a Better Day

I had a rough week.

Not the kind of rough week that results in a long list of things-gone-wrong and a sigh of “Girrrrl, I need to VENT!”.  Nothing tangible like that. My sighs sound more like ‘Well, you know, it’s one of THOSE weeks’: First word problems, chocolate cravings, untimely nostalgia, “I’m probably just under the weather.”

‘Merica is an acquired taste.  The best things always are.  This past week, I was knowingly halfway there; Washington and I were on a half-hearted, confusing fourth date.  The novelty of “going to a new place” had worn off, but I still didn’t quite fit in.  It’s not unlike that third day of kindergarten, almost-but-not-quite able to colour inside the lines. Or, being at a concert, trying to sing along to that song everyone knows (you think you know it too, but you’re barely mumbling along to the lyrics all the same).

Basically, a big load of self-imposed awkwardness followed me around last week.

At times like these, my Facebook-self usually stays perpetually optimistic: “Have you seen my blog? Have you seen my life? It’s cool. My hair is brown. I read the newspaper. I have attractive friends. Please like me.”

(Between you and me: my roots are coming in, the only physical paper I read is Street Sense, and no, I’m not dating the guy next to me in that picture. But please don’t tell Facebook. Those people knew me in middle school.)

This Friday, it felt like it was finally (finally, finally) time to crowd source some cheer:

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WOW.

I knew warm fuzzies were all over the internet. What I didn’t know was that my friends and readers could bust them out on demand like that. And I certainly didn’t know that they worked so wellTurns out, there is a way to line up some of the internet’s better offerings and (hopefully) make for a better day. Or a better week. Really, just a better outlook, period.

And so, based on these suggestions, I present to you: 10 Steps to a Better Day, Courtesy of the Internet

1)   Press the “Make Everything Okay” button: http://make-everything-ok.com/

make everything okay

2) Spend a few minutes reading “Gives Me Hope”: http://www.givesmehope.com

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3)   Watch this video.

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4)   Now, go on: Get onto Facebook, pick up your phone, and do what that video told you to do at the end.  Reach out to family. Write a thank you note.

5)  You did it? Good. Time to go to your quiet place: http://thequietplaceproject.com/

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6)  Come back from your quiet place. Watch this to feel grateful that you can:

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7)  Amazing, right? While you’re at it, you should probably watch this one, too.

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8) Are you crying? ‘Cuz I’m totally crying. Time for a hug: http://www.thenicestplaceontheinter.net/

nicest place

9) Read a few of the “1000 Awesome Things”: http://1000awesomethings.com/

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10) Turn off your computer, go outside if you’re able–if you can’t, at least try to open a window. Shake it out. Put on your favourite song. And remember:

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Love.

A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood

I originally wrote this list in July.  The idea was simple: I was really happy.  I could kinda-sorta-maybe identify why I was happy.  I decided to list 100 things that I was doing in life that kept me smiling.  No, I’m not really into empty self-improvement rhetoric, but I do like it when lifestyle trial and error works out…and I really like it when I can sum that up in a list.  1, 2, 3. ‘Sup, early 20s?

My Semi-Informed Guide:

1) Drink chocolate milk.

2) Google useless things.

3) Grow plants.

4) Make sure your main pair of shoes is comfortable.

5) Happily respond to all correspondence (letters, texts, emails, calls).

6) Don’t expect others to always respond to you.

7) Say thank you – and mean it.

8) Use lots of pillows.

9) Play new songs on repeat until you’re sick of them.

10) Do things that scare you (BOO!).

11) If you need to cry, CRY.

12) Play air guitar.

13) Go to church.

14) Spend time with children.

15) Cheer loudly.

16) Do the dishes right away.

17) Share meals.

18) Always have an extra beer in the fridge.

19) Let hugs last at LEAST 3 seconds.

20) Write songs.

21) Appreciate travel time (ie. car/train/plane rides).

22) Watch things that make you laugh.

23) Call home.

24) Send Christmas cards.

25) Celebrate people.

26) Don’t fear messes.

27) Find doctors who listen to you, and listen to them.

28) Tell the truth.

29) If someone asks you to grab a drink, say yes.

30) Keep your legs smooth.

31) Talk to God often, and candidly.

32) Find people you can be inappropriate  with.

33) Do things by candlelight.

34) Be shameless about puns.

35) Buy/eat local and seasonal.

36) Watch the game.

37) Dress for the weather.

38) Ask people how they’re doing – and care about the answer.

39) Take long walks.

40) Use fresh herbs.

41) Make a playlist of happy songs.

42) Laugh at yourself.

43) Keep a calendar, and keep it flexible.

44) Donate blood.

45) Don’t cut good conversations short.

46) Pay attention to the lyrics.

47) Answer the phone.

48) Know which old letters to keep, and which ones to throw away–be able to remember, and be able to let go.

49) Play games.

50) Use hand sanitizer.

51) Appreciate your parents.

52) Avoid making concrete decisions about the future – you have to consult your future partner/job/self/life first.

53) Watch the montages before Sunday Football.

54) Watch blooper reels.

55) Find a way to record memories.

56) Stand for the national anthem.

57) Sing every day.

58) Take that extra shift.

59) Talk to elderly people. Laugh with them. Listen to them.

60) Welcome questions, curiosities, and contradicting ideas.

61) Don’t underestimate “shallow” conversations.

62) ALWAYS offer to help someone move or renovate.

63) Embrace technology.

64) Compliment often and publicly, criticize constructively and privately.

65) Be receptive.

66) Play catch.

67) Find reasons to bite your bottom lip.

68) Listen to the radio.

69) Ask taxi drivers about their stories.

70) Care about your job.

71) Exfoliate.

72) Find a pen you really like and use it.

73) Make corrections in pencil. You could be wrong, too.

74) Trust your gut.

75) Know how to hold your liquor.

76) If a friend is experiencing a loss, be there. (Don’t try to fix them. Don’t be a hero, Just be there.)

77) Be a role model.

78) Take cold showers.

79) Watch TED talks.

80) Give lots of high fives.

81) Smile at people on the street.

82) Make eye contact.

83) Maintain a good gender ratio in social situations.

84) Give your seat to elderly, disabled, or pregnant people.

85) Have ambition.

86) Own a tool kit.

87) Dance at your desk.

88) Make secret wishes at 11:11.

89) Hold hands.

90) Hang out in the rain.

91) Give credit where credit is due.

92) Learn names.

93) Use seatbelts and a helmets.

94) Be compassionate.

95) Keep the energy in your home positive.

96) Decorate for holidays.

97) Go out and support artist friends.

98) Don’t let birthdays and Valentine’s day matter too much – just appreciate each other daily.

99) Be nice to service people.

100) Assume everyone has good intentions.

For all those who wonder where I get it, this is my family’s contribution to the list…
101) Bond with your famjam by recreating Epic Meal Time.

Why did I decide to revisit this list now?

First of all, because I’m craving chocolate milk.

Second of all, because I’ve been thinking a lot about what “growing up” means. My latest definition of “growing up” has been the process of realizing 1) how very alone and 2) how very not alone we are. Growing up means always playing with loneliness and interconnectedness, because life is a whole lotta both of them.

So, I decided to revisit this list.  Because, while blindly navigating that alone/not alone process, you sometimes pick up survival skills. 

These are mine.

Survival skills. At a haunted, jail specifically.  Go hard or go home? (see #10.)

I’m not perfect at seeing them through (see also: number 16), but I have noticed that when I do see them through, things feel better.  Essentially, these 100 points can be summed up in three rules:  Have fun. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.  My version of that means a healthy dose of pillows and hugs and values and pub nights and prayers. Your version could mean pretty much anything, I suppose, as long as you can be happy while following the 11th commandment: don’t be an asshole.

Also, my roommate complained to me that this list is too fem-centric, so I invite you to contribute some “bro”-centric points to even the score. Or just some you-centric points. This is just how I choose to roll, but I would love to hear how other people keep the positive energy high.

P.S. I am so serious about the blooper reels.