Who Tells Your Story

by , on
November 20, 2017

Last week I went to see two fantastic musicals – Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. Both won the Tony for best musical, and Hamilton won its creator Lin Manuel Miranda the Pulitzer Prize.

At the same time, travelling back and forth to New York City, I was reading two books, both non-fiction, Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers and a book by Colum McCann called Letters to a Young Writer. Colum McCann wrote one of my all-time favourite novels, Let the Great World Spin. He has this way of introducing stories one by one and then bringing them all together in a way you never imagined.

The trip, the fact that I did something I’ve been wanting to do for so long, and the shows I saw, and the stories compiled in Seven Fallen Feathers have led to a lot of tears over the past week. Deep empathy and sadness.

And that combined with my exhaustion from my trip has led to some deep thinking about myself and creation.

All my life I have wanted to be a writer. It’s not just that I’ve wanted it, it’s a need. Through much of my life I have been desperate to write. When my Grade 10 English teacher told me that I had talent I could not have been more thrilled. I was a kid who wrote for the high school newspaper, submitted to the literary magazine.

I blog so that I have a place to write, because writing is the best thing I can do.

And then I encounter works of greatness and I think to myself – what’s the point if I could never write something as pure and beautiful as that?

Years later I can remember how Let the Great World Spin made me feel. Days later just thinking about the songs and characterization in Dear Evan Hansen has me in tears. Hamilton is nothing less than a work of genius. Tanya Talaga has found a way to weave a story so tragic in a way that draws you completely in.

I plug away at my NaNoWriMo project – an idea I’m actually excited about, and also confused about – and wonder how I could possibly ever make anyone feel like that.

All I want is to make one person feel one bit of what these writers have made me feel. To give someone a feeling that lasts, that reminds them of something they’ve experienced. Maybe, just maybe leave someone in awe.

But how can I get there if I’m not practicing writing? I can’t just sit back and expect it to come without working at it. I know this. I’ve known all along. I have to make time for it. I have to or that part of me might flicker out. And I can’t have that.

Dear Evan Hansen,

by , on
November 17, 2017

Basically I saw the show on Tuesday night and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. And my complete certainty that I will never see anything like it again.

Now that I’m home I’m almost in disbelief that I even got to see the show. I have wanted to since the first time I heard Waving Through A Window on the radio. I wanted to see Ben Platt’s Tony-award winning performance, and I did, and I understand why he had to win.

I thought I knew what to expect, but I didn’t.

I was not quite Evan as a teenager, but I did wonder if anyone would even notice if I disappeared, and I am that mother, terrified of not catching the signs. It rang so true to me. All of it.

I felt, physically and emotionally, what Evan was going through. I cried for him, I laughed. It hurt.

I cried through the whole show, I have cried since, I cried the next time I listened to the soundtrack. I still feel the need to just spend some time weeping for all the memories and hurt. The absolute reminder of what it is to be in that place.

I vividly remember one day, standing by a row of lockers during a break between classes in high school, and one of the most popular guys in school just backing into me as if I wasn’t even there. An event that totally confirmed that I was invisible and I didn’t matter. I was so sure that my friends weren’t really friends like other people had, that they would easily move on. That my family’s life would be so much easier without the hassle that was me.

Never did I expect to be where I am now, able to see how many people feel that way at that age. It’s damn near universal. You brought me back to that place, and made me realize I made it out.

Sincerely, Me.

The Greatest City in the World

by , on
November 16, 2017

Here I am, sitting in Laguardia, with my flight now delayed by an hour and ten minutes. This is the first semi annoying or bad thing that has happened during the course of my trip, and I don’t even really care. It just reduces the amount of time I’ll have to wait in Toronto.

I landed in New York City on Monday morning and I have made use of just about every moment I have been here. I took a bus tour, I went to shows, I walked across the city. I enjoyed it all.

My knees hate me, but I enjoyed it all.

Even the shuttle from the airport to my hotel was interesting, because it gave me an opportunity to take it all in.

I’m not sure how much of my current calm mood is because of my trip, my experiences, or the fact that I haven’t really seen the news in almost four days, but here it is anyway.

And I’m sticking to it – I even upgraded my seat on the airplane so I’ll have actual leg room. Money well spent. (The plane on the way in was teeny tiny and I had to ask for a seatbelt extender, which was a new and not great experience, though I wasn’t embarrassed about it).

It feels good to know that I can travel alone. That I can take care of myself. That I can explore New York City without once getting lost.

I have a lot of good things to say about a grid system with numbered streets.

On this trip I got to see landmarks that I’ve only even seen in the movies. I got to see not only my first musical on Broadway, but a Tony-award winning one with it’s full original cast. I got to see Bette Midler play Dolly Gallagher Levi – a character I have adored since I was a young child and my mother showed me who Barbra Streisand was.

For four days I have made every decision about my schedule, based on my interests and how I was feeling. Including cabbing to Queens just to see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Picture.

Pretty much every bit of this trip was what I wanted it to be or more. (Dear Evan Hansen was so much more).

I know I will be coming back, I know I will have to bring my husband and my daughter, and I know they will love it too.

Would I ever live in New York?

No, no I would not. Because it’s expensive and I would never feel comfortable driving there and also it is in the USA and I feel much more comfortable in Canada. But will I save up to spend a longer vacation here at a more central hotel with many more theatre tickets? Oh yes.

Words Fail

by , on
November 15, 2017

I was driving in to work once day last year with the Broadway channel on my satellite radio and on came a brand new song from a brand new show that hadn’t even opened on Broadway yet. The song was Waving Through a Window and it immediately meant something to me.

I learned a bit more about the story, I bought the soundtrack when it came out, I bought tickets when Joe and I were planning to go to New York last November. And then sold them when plans had to change.

And then this year I decided I had to do it. With Joe’s support I planned a trip to New York City and I bought myself a ticket for Dear Evan Hansen. I desperately wanted to see the show before Ben Platt leaves. He’s been playing Evan for the run of the show and won the Tony last year for the role. 

His last show is this Sunday.

I knew from the soundtrack (and his role in Pitch Perfect) that his voice is incredible. I cannot begin to explain how amazing and brutal his performance was.

The story of this show is very close to my heart. Evan is a teenager who struggles like I struggled as a teenager. His mother is a single mother.

Ben Platt expressed in his performance all the pain and confusion I remember so vividly. I had a theatre experience I will likely never forget, and I can’t even really explain why.

I cried throughout the show, and I was not alone. The man beside me explained, as he wiped his eyes at intermission, that he hadn’t expected this.

I expected it, but I still really didn’t know what I was in for.

I would watch it again right now, and tomorrow, and the day after.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

by , on
November 13, 2017

Since I was a kid I have wanted to visit New York City. I have wanted to see this place that I have visited so many times on screen in person. I have wanted to pack a bunch of Broadway shows into a few days, stroll through Central Park, see how tall the Statue of Liberty actually is.

I leave tomorrow.

I have tickets to one play and three musicals, I have passes for Madame Tussauds and a hop on hop off bus tour. I plan to walk through Central Park and visit the memorial to John Lennon. I’m going to visit The Strand book store because famous book stores are great.

I’m going to trek to the Museum of the Movie Picture and spend some time with Jim Henson. I might cry there.

I have been planning this for weeks now, but the disbelief has just started tonight. I fly out tomorrow morning, early. And then I’m going to be in New York. I’ll just be there, surrounded by New York things.

I will have seen two Tony Award winning musicals and Bette Midler on stage.

By the time I come home, I will have felt love, passion, sadness. There will be heart swelling and tears.

And while I am seeing Hello Dolly, I will be coming home without having fallen in love.

Always remembering

by , on
November 11, 2017

After we cleaned out my father’s house I became the de facto keeper of papers. Mainly because I have them, and room to store them. I also volunteered to scan all the pictures that we found around the house – hundreds of family pictures, slides. We found, in a bag, the things my father had kept after cleaning out his mother’s house. In that bag was a scrapbook that my Granny (born in 1899) made as a teenager. This scrapbook has photos she took and captions she wrote between 1914 and 1918.

As she grows older and the years change more and more boys in uniform show up in her album, and on one caption she writes the names of the four boys and “all are soldiers now.”

I can’t imagine how many friends she must have lost.

I have more of an idea of how many comrades my grandfather lost – he and his younger brother were the only ones in their regiment to survive World War I. I took my daughter to the War Museum and we saw a wall of lights, with each representing a man lost on Vimy Ridge. My grandfather and his brother both survived that fight, and the war. Against the odds.

My Gramps, one of the grandparents I actually got to grow up knowing, spent World War II on ships.

I went out whale watching in the Atlantic, off Newfoundland once. There was a point at which we could no longer see land, it was just ocean all around us. I cannot imagine spending five years that way. I cannot imagine spending five years that way knowing that your two younger brothers are out there in the fight too.

I took my daughter to the War Museum because I want her to begin to understand. I want her to know what her ancestors did, what Canadian soldiers are still fighting for, as hard as it can be to understand. It’s not easy to explain, it shouldn’t be.

Breathless

by , on
November 10, 2017

As a kid I was diagnosed with asthma. They do this thing where you have to breathe into a computer and it tells them how pathetic your lungs are.

And then it got better. I assume because I exercised more and lost weight in high school, the asthma went away. For years I lived inhaler free. And then everything started going downhill.

These days I need more inhaler more often than I would like, especially in the winter. The cold air hits my lungs and they refuse to work properly.

Earlier this week I went out in the evening and I was planning on walking home. When I left the relative safety of inside, I discovered that the temperature had dropped dramatically in the three hours I had been inside. My lungs immediately started reacting to the cold, and the further I walked the more panic set it.

And I felt like a complete fool. I swore at myself, at the cold, at my aching body, at the tears that formed in my eyes.

It hurts to know that I can’t just trust my body to work.

Pride of Place

by , on
November 9, 2017

While I find it very difficult to be proud of my own accomplishments, I find it very easy to be proud of others. I also get jealous.

I take no great issue with where I am in my life. I have done a lot of things. A lot. I’m tired just thinking about it. But there is so much that I want to do, and some friends and acquaintances are getting to do those things. There are things I’ve done in the past that I miss doing, and and some friends and acquaintances are doing those things now.

I want to appear successful, even if I don’t really understand what that means, or who I want to think that about me. And, really, I don’t want the kind of success that will take my away from home and my family too often. I wouldn’t ever want to be recognized on the street or forced out of my comfort zone – also known as my house, in pyjamas.

But there is a jealousy when someone has an experience that is interesting to me, something that I am curious about, an opportunity, a job I would consider doing, something I would be curious about. I imagine jobs – how I would handle them, how I would do them, how that would change my life.

I wonder about being a powerful woman making important decisions, a huge salary, a staff.

In reality I’m not sure what I would give away to have those things, or how much I would want them once I got them, but there is a little part of me that wants to prove that I can get them, no matter what I then decide to do with myself.

It’s this curiosity, but I have to live where I am now. I have to step back and experience what I have now and enjoy it, make the most of it, and make decisions when they come. No one else gets to live my life, I don’t get to live anyone else’s.

All Hands on Deck

by , on
November 9, 2017

One of the fantastic things about my job is the opportunity to work for and with youth. When you get a group of engaged youth into a room together amazing things can happen.

After a full day of engagement this week, we had a performer come in, one Cody Coyote. Cody is a young Indigenous man who has taken the hardships of his own childhood and youth and turned it into music, and when he performs he breaks between songs to talk about the hard things we all face.

During his performance for us, he asked a room full of young people to raise their hand if they had a friend who had committed suicide.

A lot of hands went up. Way more hands than I was prepared for.

I am not shy about admitting that I was suicidal as a teen, but I never got to the place of attempting. Cody did, and he talks openly about it. I know of one friend from high school who didn’t make it to 34 and I don’t know why. I saw her not long before she died and we talked about what was going on, and what was happening next in our lives. It was the same strange way we would run into each other every now and again. Every time I think about her, I don’t understand.

And all of these hands went up.

I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. I know that I was in that place once. I know that it took a lot of work to get out. I know that it took a lot of work to believe that I should try to get out of it.

All of these kids raising their hands who think that maybe they could have said or done something, will wonder why all their lives. Maybe never realizing that there is no why. Not really. And if you haven’t been there, you just feel like someone left behind who could have said something or done something, no matter how many people tell you you’re wrong.

All you can do is be a friend, all a friend can do is be there, all an adult can do is listen. All we can do together is try. Build a community and try.

Clocked

by , on
November 8, 2017

I was inching my way along, trying to do NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo and also helping to organize one of the biggest events of the year at work, and I missed a day.

It is very frustrating to feel that there is no time, when you know that when you have taken on more you have always made the time.

The good news is that I got to spend two days being completely worn out with a group of amazing young people, amazing presenters and in one of my all-time favourite places. I got to see a bunch of male MPs put on bright pink heels as a message against violence against women.

And I got to come home and hang with my kiddo and get her to read to me at the end of the day.

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