Category Archives: Relationships

Single-Chic and the Urgency of Living Well

I just finished a book called “The Art of Sleeping Alone” by Sophie Fontanel. It has been translated from French and I can just sense a lot was lost in that process. Hidden there is a chic and stylish single woman but quite often throughout the book she does not negotiate the important boundary between haughtiness and anger. There is a significant difference in tone.

I was interested in it for two reasons: I sleep alone and her first run of the novel sold 150,000 in like three days in France. I’ve been single now since January, 2012. And yes, you’re reading the subtext correct there. After the first few months of scissor-pain after the breakup, I began to feel something happening. It felt like when you come in out of a very bad storm and begin to unwrap your scarf, the rings releasing from your neck, the placing of your coat over a hook while simultaneously kicking off boots, letting your bag slump to the floor and finally sit down. The warmth settles deep into a long sigh, your hair sits happily limp, unkempt, real against your ruddy cheeks.

Indeed, you are home.

Why had this never happened before? Why hadn’t I gone inside? Why had I kept looking, furtively outside, running down the street calling out to someone else when all along my home waited for me, unknown to my own searching self?

In her book, Sophie Fontanel takes an often calculating, critical view of couples and distances herself so far from them that it tastes a little bitter at times. I don’t feel that way at all. I see them as they walk past me arm in arm, hand in hand, but barely, as though they are the same as the cashier or child walking by or a tree to be honest. It’s wonderful. I am completely content being alone and having all of my life for myself to consume now.

Gloria Steinem once said that we eventually grow up to become the men we wanted to marry. I’m not sure my image of a husband was ever that healthy but I do know when I decided to marry myself last year in Paris it felt like the right thing to do. Buy a ring, make a commitment to my life, and get on with it.

Recently, a girlfriend of mine, who is also single, didn’t want to go to visit a certain town that I also wasn’t too hip to visit. We both had the same reason: old boyfriend memories.

I said, then that is exactly where we’ll go. It is ours! We will eat, drink, dance, and celebrate. La vie est courte!

There’s a certain chicness that comes with being totally confident and comfortable in one’s skin and ironically, that is what I found missing in Sophie Fontanel’s new novel. I thought she would have had more Parisian chic between the sheets.

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A Slow Flame to Victory

A year ago I was getting ready to go to Paris by myself. I had a broken heart. I was cupping my hands around it like it was the top of a newborn’s head. I was praying I could protect it long enough for it to grow back together. I wanted to escape on a plane, far, far away from the dreams I had been certain were plans waiting to be realized. Part of me was also hoping the person I loved, who lived in Germany, would show up at my hotel room and hold me in his arms.

But our hearts never really grow back to what they were before they were broken. They heal, but the broken bits are in there, like shards of glass, still fragile, still shatterable, but our skin has thickened and wizened and regenerated over top.

It was a long road to May of this year. It had a lot of forks. It took me down a lot of valleys, chasms, and then an abyss. I tried to light hope but it was a thin flame without much heat. And yet, somehow, here is May, in all its glorious flirtation and I am alive. I could regret things that happened or, I could be delighted I have a chance to live the life I want to live, on my own terms.

Desire has a funny way of bringing you face to face with choice. In the end, happiness isn’t in your heart’s desire but in the choice you made when you found it.

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Winged Victory of Samothrace, taken at the Louvre, Paris, May 2012. By moi of course.

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Secret love letters, notes on a pillow, roller coasters and dance cards

I’m writing a fictional love letter for a wedding show today. It’s a fun little job for a dear friend (Christine Smart of Smart Events) who is the mastermind behind a brilliant destination collective, called appropriately, the Victoria Wedding Collective. I am smiling to myself because I am writing as a man to a woman. I go into my own archives for inspiration to sift through the best love letters (yes, I keep them, and you should keep yours too). What made them great? What made them bypass judgement, doubt, insecurities, fear  or obstacles and zip straight into my heart like a well-sharpened arrow?

Timing is a big part of it. Too soon and you aren’t ready for the weighty words, too late and well, it’s too late and no one is bothering to read your pithy letter. Sincerity of voice–very important quality. Too saccharine and I don’t believe you, too reserved and I’m not emotionally invested. Language. The ultimate measure of a good love letter is the language. Now, I’m not referring to grammar but rather the secret language between you and your loved one. That is what makes love so special after all , that certain little bubble you both inhabit where you have your secret language only you know. When you can speak to one another in this way then that is when great love letters are written. They could be a small note on a pillow. In a pocket. Or tweet even but it has to be in your secret language that is spoken to no other.

I have an old scrapbook of my mother’s and in it are her dance-cards from the 40’s. There’s one with a little note on it that says, ‘Until the next dance my dear, J. xo‘. My mother once admitted to me, not long before she died, that she had desperately loved a man named Jack before she met my father. She went on in a sort of reverie, describing a time they rode a rollercoaster and how it felt at the top, laughing and holding his hand and I was taken aback as I watched her eyes that had wandered far back in time to a love that meant so much to her. I was shocked because my mother was such a stalwart supporter of my father all my life. It was like a door had opened to a storyworld of a different woman in a different life. Sadly, Jack died in the war and I think my mother likely never entirely repaired from it. This small note was all that was left of their love story and I treasure it. Of course I’m thankful she met my father, but this small secret world of hers and Jack’s is inspiring me to as I write this letter for my friend’s show. I think it could blossom into a longer narrative.

Love letters contain our hearts, with small, hopeful sails on them, sent off to sea with our deepest desire that they reach the shore. Sometimes they do. In my letters, I think they will.

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Analog vs Digital Love: How Memory Is Curated

I am reading a great book called Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton. It’s a memoir that takes you back before the days of the internet, when phone calls were made with phones still attached to walls. When letters were written transatlantically. When people were together fully, with no second tier of attention, person, thing, or device to interrupt them or tug them away from the moment.

I remember those days too. I remember being in love in university and the feeling of a lazy day in bed then rushing to the theatre, where my boyfriend would race through Noel Coward dialogue then rush backstage and kiss me between scenes. Most days we lay on the rocky shores of Dallas bay beach in Victoria and drank wine and talked of art and life and our love, replaying our first disastrous date over and over and laughing in our own secret world. There were four am whispers that spoke to our 20 year old innocence, full of hopes and dreams and big plans. Sun set, sun rise. Always holding each other. We had no cell phones or computer, only a bare room, a shared bathroom with other renters in a big old character house, a bed, and sparse little cooking area. No one in the house loved us because we were so in love. We felt bad about it but there was nothing to do be done. We needed long baths and we had to cook in the middle of the night and rehearse dialogue loudly ‘with feeling’.

I wrote love notes and left them on pillows. If we were apart, we had to wait all day to speak to each other. I used to run from the bus stop to our apartment after hours of separation. There was no digital bridge between us, only the haphazard will of time marking off the distance between one touch and another.

I don’t have any text or tweets or emails or Facebook  statuses to look back on. No skype conversations, no digital footprints of our great love that held thousands of words and gestures, tears, and laughter. Not a trace.

Fast forward to now and I can’t seem to get out of the mire of leftover digital debris of love now gone. Just when I think it’s all been tidied away I come around the corner of a digital file to read:

“My heart and soul is with you all day. xxx”

or

“Counting down the days until I hold you in my arms again. I should be landing soon, same gate! Hope it is warmer in DC!”

 

Tweets, emails, instagrams–endless trails of relationships held in the ether. When I read these I don’t see an image or have a feeling. I just see text. A lot of short text messages. In fact, one of my Twitter direct message streams between my boyfriend and I equalled 995 pages. Yes, enough for a book.

I wonder as we gently open our memories and look back if analog love will feel different than digital? I think it does. In my analog love, there’s only the pictures that run like an old movie in my mind: us running for the bus, laughing so hard in a movie lineup I pee my pants, roses by the bed, champagne bubbles making me hiccup. They all seem saturated and three-dimensional and evocative and there’s nothing else attached to these images. Only the feeling, made more precious because they exist in my personal memory and nowhere else.

But when I look back on my last few relationships, they are crowded with so much confusing digital noise it’s hard to just see a simple picture. There’s so much of our relationship that happened in fractured transmedia style stories told across multiple platforms that it’s harder for me to pull a single moment out and cherish it. There’s a lot of content. There’s also a lot of sadness in those digital remnants that is harder to ignore and let the simple happiness shine through.

Yesterday I was walking along the dyke near where I live and ran into an 84-year-old man who was photographing a bird. I stopped and we started chatting. He took up photography only a year ago and felt completely lost with the digital camera at first but he showed me his pictures and they were National Geographic quality. I was stunned. There was the owl he was watching, flying towards the viewfinder with his wings outspread and his head upside down. Amazing capture. I said, you need to publish these! He just laughed and laughed. I said, what do you do with them? He said ‘I don’t do anything. My wife doesn’t want me fooling with the computer. I just like taking pictures.‘ Turns out, he hands his entire sim card over to a Nature Conservancy every few months for free.

So there we were, just being in the moment, enjoying two short-eared owls hunting for vole with no purpose other than to just marvel in their beauty and try to capture it on film. It felt really pure to me. The old man said, ‘I get these pictures because the birds trust me. They know me. I come here everyday for 3 or 4 hours.’

Bill, shooting the owls hunting by the dyke.

Bill, shooting the owls hunting by the dyke.

I am thinking differently about digital these days. In part because of Bill, my new friend, but also in part because I am seeing how my life has changed since being immersed and connected all the time.  I’m not sure where this is going to take me but I’m curious to know others thoughts on analog versus digital experiences, and how we will remember in 10 years, and, more importantly, how our hearts will be curated in the ether.

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A kiss isn’t an emoticon: The myth of digital love

I had two long distant relationships this year, one in DC, one in Hannover, Germany. I work in the digital space for a living so it was no problem for me to seamlessly shift from IRL (in real life) to digital life. I do it all day long. My German boyfriend was barely past opening email when I met him but managed, in the space of a short time, to direct message on Twitter, open a Dropbox account, begin skyping at all hours, and even made videos and opened a YouTube account. We hacked the tools to make them work for us and our time distance. Sometimes I’d wake to a dozen love tweets just as he might be going to bed. There was a kind of pause effect that I liked about digital love; it gave me time to think, to process words as a reader. I loved the idea that someone was sending small blips of poetry to me across an ocean as I slept. I adored waking to them, as though each day greeted me with possibility and sweetness, albeit in the glowing light of an iPhone in the early morning dark.

But the problem with digital relationships is that you effortlessly enter a world of fiction.

Even as I write this, there are thousands of calls being made between people full of hope, commitment, and a steely determination that their digital connection is as good as their connection in real life.

It isn’t.

Don’t kid yourself. While our cross-media relationships hold incredible power–they do communicate our powerful emotions in words, photographs, and video but the subtleties get lost in cyber space: The small twitch of a finger, anxiously drumming a leg, a poker-like tell of inner conflict that is entirely missed as the face smiles in a pixelated mess of I love you’s, no really, I do’s.

There are no soft shoulders, no forgiving spaces to lean into on a couch, no hesitant moments in a kitchen before a meal where love can heal and eat in peace together. Instead, words can slam into you at 140 characters like a semi doing 90 miles an hour straight into a brick wall. Direct messages are direct alright.

It is also easier to lie and obfuscate in digital communications. One can get carried away with the fictionalized world of the social objects created to imagine a storyworld between you and your loved one. Pictures, video links, mp3 files, Dropbox playlists, Pins, and memos, even couriered packages all begin to shape and form the world you share. Connection, that is, wi-fi, takes on a life or death dependency. And it seems real, it seems like the best possible world, it is never boring or tedious; it is in fact often better than the real thing. No breath is exchanged however, not a single touch is explored truthfully.

Doubt is easily buried in emoticons.

As our globe shrinks to a :):):):):):) and a lmao or a bleakly typed ‘are you there?’, we should not confuse digital love with IRL love. In fact, I think dating sites should really come with a warning, like a pack of cigarettes: “Nothing you see, hear, feel, or read is real. Proceed with caution into this fictionalized world.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love rabbit holes, I really do love escaping into imaginary worlds. And that is the danger. I’m so easily drawn into fiction over reality that the slippery slope ends up in a lot of digital debris and very little to show for my journey. Good fiction should transform you, take you on a journey, and leave you having learned from the storyworld something that you could not have learned had you not entered it. But digital relationships aren’t always authored by a good writer and entering into any old story world is a risk.

Smell and taste and laughter and tactile moments cannot be replaced by digital communications no matter how advanced we are; the smell of just washed hair, the texture of hands holding one another, the visceral experience of sitting across from another person and feeling their truth without having to say a word, without, in fact, a single electrical outlet around for a 1000 miles.

Ironically, the more digital I make my life, the more I savour my IRL experiences. The exquisite pleasure of sitting with my old friends, my iPhone off, wine in hand, hearing familiar laughter, clinking of steak knives on plates, the smell of coals below a dripping grill, late afternoon sun warming my back, the lightness of just being in one place, analog style, with only my five senses to record the experience.

Be wary if you think you can port your relationship into and across digital media: There needs to be a time when the circus puts pegs down into the earth, the tent is raised, and real stories get told and real people sit with one another and share them. For me, without the IRL component, no relationship can be truly alive and experienced. Besides, I am pretty sure a kiss still wants to be a kiss and not an emoticon…

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Spend on love, keep your money and hold the marriage

For the first time in my life I have an amazing sound system in my car. In fact, I may go deaf over the course of the summer. I’ve been blaring the new Madonna album MDNA so loud it’s bending the windows. I’m sure some teen next to me is thinking, ‘rock on Grandma’ but I don’t care.

Listening to the lyrics on this album can sometimes feel like a punch in the stomach though as Madonna works out her anger, sadness, and remorse about her marriage to Guy Ritchie.  I watched (through the lens of marriage-obsessed media) as this highly independent, financially secure (understatement), incredibly talented woman walked down the bridal path for the second time and lapped up their whole romantic story.

Their love was one born across a table in Sting’s house who hosted them both at a luncheon. It was love at first sight apparently. Then they had a traditional romantic fairytale wedding complete with Scottish castle, church, and haunting moors. Cue music.

However, I knew there was trouble in that marriage when on her last album she wrote  ‘Miles Away‘  and ‘Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You‘. But I wanted to believe in the fairytale…Oops, that fairytale just awarded Guy Ritchie one of the largest settlements in divorce history. Ouch.

Madonna is mad. Just listen to Gang Bang.

You can hear plainly in this album Guy Ritchie must have had an affair. Then soaked her for all she was worth. Marriage, it’s a beautiful thing right? Sometimes I guess.  Maybe because everyone wants to remain in the bubble, the marriage dream, the happily-ever-after dream they don’t look at what is really going on in their relationships. There’s just so much…..to lose.

The bigger the bubble–bauble?–the bigger the bang when it bursts.

I watched a Goldie Hawn interview recently (who is famously unmarried to Kurt Russell) and she said something that really resonated with me: “I want to be free to choose and I want the person with me to be free to choose. Every day of their lives. To wake up and go to sleep making the choice to love that person and fully be in it.”

Choice. I wonder, do we lose some of our choice when we get a big fat diamond ring on our finger? As a woman, is this idea even relevant anymore? Do we need to show the world our emotional collateral? ‘Look, see? Right here on my hand, there it is folks!’ Apparently it is very relevant, because Pinterest is a living experiment of the fairytale very much alive and well and pinned to the hearts of hopeful women around the globe.

My favourite song on this new album has to be  Love Spent where she writes with a frank, bare honesty about money and its  tragic place in their marriage. I suppose money doesn’t buy happiness after all, go figure.

I want you to take me like you took your money
Take me in your arms until your last breath
I want you to hold me like you hold your money
Hold me in your arms until there’s nothing left

So, from a sanctioned marriage with a priest, Madonna gets fleeced and now has a broken heart and when asked by David Letterman if she would marry again she flatly responded:

“I would rather get run over by a train.”

I feel lucky that 2011 emancipated from my need to ever be married. I’m all about Goldie’s philosophy, and having choice. Personally, I think women have earned it. I know I have.

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Circus tents, goodbye, and the yellow brick road

I flew out of Victoria last week with a mind teeming with thoughts of digital media, heartbreak, hope, and a thread, dropped, but still there, of  childlike belief in somewhere over the rainbow.

I drove through the beautiful Okanagan, playing the new Sarah Slean, with an expanse of time to think for the first time in weeks. I thought about how it might be better to imagine that it is my own self waiting for me at the end of the rainbow, and not in fact, a soul mate, or husband, or steadfast boyfriend. Now, don’t get all pitying me or we’ll have an incident–what I’m really trying to get at here is the danger of a trusting mind. I know, all the self-help gurus will tell you, trust and you shall set yourself free. Well, they don’t trust like I do, I can promise you that.

When I was little, I either wanted to make a fort, or put on a play. One of the two. I loved to feel we were all in, totally committed to this idea, to this thing we were doing. I loved the sense that we would die building that damn fort or creating that show for the waiting living room audience of five. I found this same feeling in theatre as an adult, and often now in the work I do in digital media and even more so in my writing.

I just don’t get it when people don’t go all in with love and open up their chests to reveal all the delicious gold that is there. I like to do this as a kid would cannonball off a dock on a hot summer’s day. Maybe I’m an exhibitionist. Or maybe, worse, I trust like a performative fool in front of a really great ‘all in’ kind of Judy Garland audience. The key, I realized, while driving past empty farmland and silent snow, with nothing but the CBC to cling to, is to turn the lights on. Maybe, just maybe, the audience isn’t exactly what I thought it was, full of old pals and loving, clapping hearts.

Oh. That feeling, when the lights come on is like no other. It’s kind of like when the circus leaves, isn’t it?

No bother, the circus tent can always get packed up again. It was fun and then it wasn’t. So, this time, I’ll remember, just before you head out on the yellow brick road, pack your own self. That is all you’ll really need.

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