A Canadiana Christmas & A Happy New Start

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In the month of November of my seventeenth year, I left the Canadian metropolis of Montreal to go inhabit the lunar landscapes of Northern Alberta. My knack for adventure had propelled me to subscribe to a youth program where locations were picked for the participants after their acceptance into the program, which was aimed at a bunch of 17 to 21 years old who were about to live three months in three different Canadian locations for a total of nine months. It was not the first time that I ever left home without any family, but this time, it was about to be a long and far-flung adventure, and anything seemed possible. At the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, I instantly recognized two girls from the same program as me because of their badges sewn onto their backpacks and tuques, and so the three of us embarked on our first flight of the day together. We landed in the snow in Calgary, quickly grabbed a coffee and boarded another plane to Grande Prairie. The plane was noticeably smaller that its predecessor, and its passengers consisted almost exclusively of fellow young participants and their accompanying authority figures. We talked, laughed and interviewed each other. Me and the girls even did rounds to get a view from the window. Of course, we were a very excited bunch, deserting our hometowns, starting ourselves anew. It was the beginning of what already seemed like a year-long summer camp for late teens.

We arrived in Grande Prairie at night in the tiniest airport, one without chain stores, long corridors or hundreds of people. Instead, the airport consisted of one huge room and a snack bar atop a mezzanine. There were now about thirty to forty participants hanging out there, clustered on leather seats in the common public space next to the greasy spoon. The bunch of young folks, waiting to depart to their respective destinations, was sprawled in different directions, speaking French or English, and more rarely both. One of the purposes of the program was that the participants would become bilingual by the end of it, which was bound to happen, but as nerves were sensitive and travel exhaustion felt, most people kept to themselves.

A couple of minutes later, I embarked on a couple of charter buses and, while the first group was dropped in Grande Prairie, mine stopped at Falher and the other group was bound to settle in Peace River. The first thing that really hit me was the lack of light: there was not a single spot in sight in the few hours of bus after Grande Prairie. The only lights came from oil tanks at the side of the road and even more rarely from garages and convenience stores. The moment was quiet and kind of scary. I felt like I was about to live in the middle of nowhere (which wasn’t that far from the truth, come to think of it), while also feeling incredibly tiny in the infinite land.

We finally made it at the house, bleary-eyed, and were divided into three different rooms: three girls in two rooms, and the boys downstairs. The beds, made of white-painted metal, were noisy and uncomfortable. We were just about to start our own family in this house as we got accustomed to live together in it, doing various volunteer jobs during the day, and coming back at night. There were always a team of two that had to clean the house and make food daily, and we even learned how to bake our own bread.

The times were the most joyful with the group. There wasn’t a city to discover, and that helped us to bond. We were always playing in the snow like there was no tomorrow: having snow fights, making angels in the snow, going for walks. At one point, we even witnessed white and green Northern lights on a nightly walk. The sky was gigantic in proportion to the flat land and the connection to it was primordial in a way that doesn’t happen when surrounded by tall buildings.  The sense of space was all-encompassing, as if the sky could dictate our moods and lifestyle.

The program was a moment of togetherness, despite our differences of language, culture and hometown. We were always traveling in a mini van, doing various activities such as swimming or thrift-store shopping. Alas, the summer camp for late teens also came with a downside and its share of boredom:  the volunteer work I was doing involved too much time spent on MSN chatting with my friends back home and not enough time being challenged.

I learned to become happy in everyday life, with such small events as coffee breaks with fellow coworkers, but my gut was telling me that I needed to get out. As days went by, I realized that although I loved the group, I didn’t like how the organization was ruling our lives. I increasingly started feeling like an inmate living by strict regulations instead of living a grand adventure. I thus announced my departure and then, two days before Christmas, I was officially kicked out of the program. Luckily, I was taken under the wings of my lovely coworker, Yvonne, who had the same age as my dad’s but was already a grandmother many times over. Yvonne and her retiree husband’s André lived in huge house and they even had prepared a plush guest room for me. After sleeping on a bunk bed for weeks, the queen-sized bed felt like a dream.

I spent Christmas Eve with the couple’s family: their children and grandchildren came along for an evening of fun, gift-giving and card-playing. The whole family made me feel more than welcome, and it was the best gift I could have received that year, miles from home. It was another kind of Canadiana Christmas, not the typical Québécois one I was used to, but still one where food was abundant (there was a chocolate fountain!) and laughs galore.

On Christmas day, I returned to the group’s house to hang out with everyone. It was beyond frozen, and energies at the house were low as we watched movie after movie. I felt a tinge of melancholia as I saw the group together for the last time, while simultaneously feeling ready to face loneliness, challenges, and independence.

On December 26th, around 5 AM, Yvonne dropped me to the bus stop, direction Edmonton, where I had a plane to catch. I was so lucky that, when transferring my ticket booked by the organization to my hometown, an engaging young man decided to give me a first-class seat, with the explanation: ”it’s Christmas, right?”. In the bus, sunrise was starting to work its magic. For the last time, I got completely immersed in the boundless landscapes of the Northern part of the province.

I made it to the airport, and it was the first time that I was boarding a plane on my own. I remember writing in my notebook, sitting in the luxury lounge, feeling so many emotions at once, something that was to become frequent in following trips. The plane ride was short and sweet, under an hour and a half and filled with fresh coffee, crudités, the Vancouver Sun and a warm towel to watch my hands. I felt like I was becoming a grown-up.

I arrived in Vancouver in a overcrowded airport, and got picked up by a friend of my mother’s, who lived there since years. That night, at his place in the suburbs, I went to sleep with a smile on my face, proud of such a huge change in a matter of days. The next morning, I woke up at dawn armed and ready with a considerable pile of CVs. I walked outside, looked at the lush West Coast vegetation, embarked on a bus and went on exploring. It was a brand new day,Vancouver was just about to be discovered and I was learning (somewhat intensely) how to be a grown-up.

Lili Monette is a born-and-raised Montrealer and an artist by DNA and by choice. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Theatre and Development from Concordia University and can be found around the world entertaining people and gathering stories.

Cougar At Twenty-three

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As the delicacy of just baked young male flesh seemed to be the hormone-driven cougar women’s main nutrient intake, I was led to think that they held the secret of pleasure’s longevity, of tight thighs and happy bouncy breasts for the years ahead when other couples might desperately wonder what show to watch that night.

Looking forward to enjoying the pleasures of youngsters at a later age, does it seem normal to say that I first spent some time exploring intimacy with father figures? Well, what can I say? If their mental age was about mine, which meant just around nine, we were then a perfect fit! After touching more and more wrinkled skin, the day came when I thought to myself: “Oh! How do I crave young fresh flesh!”

What was the problem with me? Why was I finding it so hard to be attracted physically or mentally (let alone both at once) by guys around my real age? Maybe I didn’t know how to live in the now and lived my future to distract myself from my fear of it. Maybe I had met those people in past lives, forgot why we broke apart and was foolishly happy that we might be united again. Maybe I just wasn’t confident enough with myself to realize that I could get a guy my age if I wasn’t losing time dating deadbeat dreamers who were ready to craft a new world between their bare bloody hands for ungrateful me.

Well, it had to happen. Seeking to attain balance, doesn’t one often go from one extreme to another? I fell in love with the freshest flesh on the meat market: a not yet legal virgin with no facial hair but the softest duvet! My encounter with this young fella happened two seasons after I told the last could-be-my-father type “ta-tah” and started re-flowering myself to have it just like a virgin with someone I would, for once, truly go crazy for, would truly get moist for, that I would get to know bit by bit until one day, one lovely day, naturally and without any questions, we would start to… ah, I do not dare to spell that delightful and censored rite! I have shivers down my spine evoking the sensual pleasures I have once known that are no longer familiar to my body.

I did not think about this new guy too much at first, but as my interest and desire grew into a constant stream of fantasy that my body made half-real, I faced my emotional self and realized how much I was delusional in my relationships. I tried to rationalize to keep the friendship going, in a platonic way of course.

His cute attempts to get closer to me made me smile at first since we were not of the same league. Slowly, the honesty and intensity he deployed in his innocent courtship grew on me. I became more and more vulnerable to it.

As he crashed at my place when he was in town, I did really good at appointing him a bed that wasn’t mine. The dreaded day came when, out of my control, the situation called upon bed sharing.  “Oh Divine, please help me!” I cried as I sealed myself up with clothes and took place next to him (oh his fresh scent) in bed, not ready to give up on the vow I took a few months earlier. The first night went okay, I do not recall sexual dreams leading to an orgasmic awakening, although I did get drenched in sweat, being used to sleep naked.

The second night was painful. All day I had been delighted by the sight of his strong and tanned body, wet with salt water, shining in the August sun. Not being in the city nor surrounded by society, the social age conventions were evaporating out of my mind. Again, we went to bed and the following morning, it was not the sunshine that awoke me, nor heat, but my inflamed ovaries yelling at me: “woman!! Will you get us or not to work and reproduce? Come on, we’re ready for a little sport!”

I understood why my cat (my friend pet and not my own pussy) would meow and rub herself onto anything, painfully, before being fixed. I had myself never accumulated such sexual energy, since I would normally do like lots of other people do: get drunk and get low with whoever was cute enough for a blurred late-night vision. Frantically, I got out of bed and took on whatever tasks I could find to use up that energy and to hold myself from acting like my cat. But really, it was too late: I was hardly remaining focused in his presence, imagining intensely caliente scenarios.

We did get closer and closer. We slept holding each other’s hands, then bodies. One day we had our first kiss (how soft was a duvet-covered lip against my feminine mouse-stache). I was experiencing stages of intimacy I skipped with previous partners. Stepping back a little and living these moments enabled me to grow. I was letting him lead, forgetting my seducing patterns, even becoming clumsy as we touched. We went on like this for a moment until one day…

… to be continued!

*
Nessa, back in Montreal, was shocked when someone made her realize that all she ever speaks with, writes with, shares ideas or shoots interrogations at the world with are the same 26 letters arranged or not in assembles. Alas, that realization didn’t help her scatterbrained intellect to find center.

Photo: Madonna and Jesus Luz for W Magazine, photographed by Steven Klein

No More Notches in His Bedpost

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­I told myself I wouldn’t go back to see him. But it took me less than 18 hours from landing to end up back in his bed. I can blame it on being part of our whole routine. I can blame it on habit. Or I can be honest with myself and blame it on the comfort of being with someone who still liked me despite knowing me when I was 17.

I arrived at his door. He answered it looking just as tall and gangly and skater-boyish as he did when he was 19. I guess I still found those same things hot. He showed me around his house. This must have been the fifth or sixth house of his I visited. Then, as always, we ended up in his bedroom. I congratulated him on the fact that he finally had a real bed, and not just a mattress on the floor as he used to have. Because of this, and him, I probably didn’t have sex on a real bed until I was in my twenties.

I sat down on his new bed and he started to kiss me.

This had been going on for six years.

Over the years I have come to know many different relationships with boys. There have been boyfriends, one-night stands, and fuck buddies – but my relationship with this boy never fit into any category. We were friends who would hang out, run errands together, go for walks, but most of all, sleep with each other regularly.

From the beginning I was attracted to him. But never enough to want to be in a relationship with him. When I was still a teenager, I might have fantasized a time or two about our sleepovers and hang-outs to be something more official and consistent. But as more time passed, and the more times we continued sleeping together, more and more I knew I never wanted to date him. So I began pushing him away and started being more persistent about getting me over. Not that it ever took that much effort on his part.

He never knew that he took my virginity. I never bothered to tell him. That first time, like most first times, was awkward. But we were both drunk. And I wanted to do it. Most of my friends’ v-card stories involve a boyfriend, or a tragic night with a crush or stranger who never called them again. But no person has ever been able to offer me insight on how to navigate this particular type of relationship.

Because to them, it was strange. It was strange to me too.

Ours was my longest relationship. I have never been monogamous with any other guy for longer than a month. I always thought it was because I am emotionally retarded. Now I’m thinking is because I have always had the comfort of having him in the background that I have never had to make myself vulnerable to another guy.

Other than having sex, everything else we did was kind of relationship-y, or at the very least friend-y. We would confide to each other personal struggles– whether it was our weird family situations, jobs, living, or other stuff. We would go hang out together – in non- sexual ways. I would go find him at the skate park when he lost his phone and he would attempt to trek to my house in the freezing cold when I wasn`t answering mine.

And in our five+ years, I cannot say that he was ever dishonest with me. Other than an occasion or two when he told me to come over and I did – but he forgot to be home. It ended up being these types of slip-ups – the ones that showed he had no respect for me – that made me eventually end it. But it still felt like 80% of the time he treated me exceptionally. And for a friends-with-benefits situation, I feel like that was adequate.

My friends would often ask me why he and I never dated. And to be honest, I could never come up with a good answer. Maybe it was because I was always either focused on my studies, or work, or other boys that I actually wanted to date. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t attracted to him. After all we did have great chemistry and nasty – fun sex. But despite of the deep conversations and sexual chemistry – there was never anything more. I always let that fantasy go, because I knew that he would have to get his life together. And year after year, he didn’t change.

Finally after over six years, I think I have let him go. After all there is only so much a girl can go through. When I didn’t hear from him in over a month I decided I was over it. Literally five minutes later I received a text message from him with the inevitable invitation. Then I received another call from him. This time, I decided to give in. I missed him, or sex with him, even though it had only been a month since I last saw him. But as I began walking to his house with no sign of him texting me back I grew furious. Since he had done this to me a couple times before, I couldn’t trust him. But unlike those times I no longer had the patience or forgiveness for it. I finally decided I am worth more.

As always, he managed to appear in the precise moment I chose to end it – as though he could sense when I was at my weakest. But for the first time, I stuck with my decision to end things. So I told him it was over. Actually, I think I said, “You know what? I am done. Don’t call me ever again,” but in a slightly more drunken drama queen kind of way.

For about ten minutes he called and texted about a dozen times. Thankfully for my dignity I was already on the subway home, or else I might have answered one of his desperate pleas.

The next morning I woke up with those giggles and nervous laughs you get when you did something stupid the night before. But instead of feeling shame or regret, I just felt freedom with a side of uncertainty.

I finally accepted that I had grown out of our relationship. That I had changed too much. That I wanted something more. Him – the only thing that had changed was his new bedframe.

Written by May Hailer.

Haunted Hearts

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Ghosts and hauntings are something that have been alive in legend for centuries. The tales of being followed by an unwanted presence is enough to run a shiver down anyone’s spine, especially when you’re haunted by the thought of “Where did I go wrong?” after a date, a relationship, or hell, even just a hook-up.

I have avoided stores, bars, cafes, even entire intersections. For a while I would not go to the Annex at all. Simply, because my favourite part of the city has been peppered with disappointing reminders of the fact that guy I really wanted did not want me. This situation with the Annex changed when my beautiful friend Taylor said to me: “You avoid College and Bathurst? How do you go to Sneaky Dees?” Well my first date with a guy was across the street. What if I ran into him? Pretty unlikely. It took 23 years to meet him in the first place. Chances of seeing him again were slight. I realized she was right. No man should separate me from the Kings Crown. (If you don’t know what that is think of a fries supreme on an extreme level.)

Regardless of whether or not my fry cravings were satisfied, I have spent months reliving each conversation. Was it something I said? Was it my outfit? Did I slurp my martini back in an unsexy manner? Maybe it was because I didn’t really eat the sangria fruit, but I just don’t like mangoes! Is that why? Is it because I don’t like mangoes? The worst thought… Am I a bad kisser? Exasperated and torn you just want to know why. No matter how long or short lived a romance these thoughts can and will haunt you if you really liked the person. These thoughts stalk you quietly and strike like Jason Voorhees. Instead of a machete that brutally kills you, it’s cringe-worthy thoughts.

Also, you feel crazy. Like in any ghost story when people talk about seeing ghosts, what happens? That person is crazy. Not just crazy, the town nut. Always. I don’t care what anyone says, but after a bad heartbreak I swear to the god of above that I just “saw” him from the back, nope… not him. When did every guy start wearing glasses and plaid shirts? I work as a Barista. Do you know how many people in the world has his name? Worse, do you know how many times I have had to write that name daily? This is like trying to un-study for a high school geometry test. My brain mass is still filled with math formulas I will never use.

Try not to think about it you say? How? Let’s think about horror movies. What is the source of Freddy Kruger’s power? The fear of the children. However, you can’t be afraid of something you don’t believe in. Since this last serious haunting I have dated others, taken more chances, done more writing and spent more time with my friends. I know I won’t feel this way forever and I that is the key to helping any ghost pass on. Deal with the unfinished business and exercise that new mini skirt and stop limiting yourself. March into your favourite haunted café, restaurant or bar and if you see the ghost… Well I don’t know. Say hi? Remember, like any haunting there was a connection there in the beginning. And like anything that upsets us, it can only upset us if we care.

I wish I had the answers and I wish I was above this whole haunting thing. The fact is we all have our ghosts and sometimes we have to face them whether they are a Casper, a Poltergeist, The Headless Horsemen or Patrick Swayze. Light your ghosts a candle and remember just like everything else in the world all things come to an end. Still try to keep your coffee shop. A good café is rare to come by. Also if it didn’t work out, there is probably a good reason. I admit thoughts of what those reasons are still baffle me in some cases. The fact is that the coolest people in history have been dumped and rejected. Janis Joplin, Marilyn Monroe, the Goblin King and Dr. Frank N Furter.

Ultimately, when I’m writing a piece I try to leave you with advice, or something to think about. This time I have nothing. I mean this is a subject just as mysterious as the paranormal. Part of me wants to tell you not to read any relationship advice books or take any relationship advice from anyone because every relationship, date and person is different. But that would be a generalization. Like Mark Twain once said. “All generalizations are false, including this one.” If after reading this you find yourself saying “Well, that wasn’t helpful.” I apologize, but I want you to know just because you’re single doesn’t mean you’re alone. There are more of the haunted out there and there will definitely be more ghosts haunting your future. I just hope they are friendly.

Andrea Holz is a Toronto-based award winning writer, actress, comedian and coffee master. 

Normal Girls Are Boring

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“Normal girls are boring,” my boyfriend said, as he does on those lucid afternoons where instability swirls around us like sparkler streaks on Canada Day. In these fleeting moments my own delusions work in my favour and it dawns on me that being crazy is a hall pass. It’s a way out. Being crazy forgives me for things normal girls could never get away with. Sometimes its memories that go missing in the deep, dark crevices of my mind. Sometimes it’s too many T3’s and JD and not enough skirt on a Tuesday in winter when I should be writing or sleeping. Sometimes its door slamming and item throwing followed by confusion, crying and often hugs. Normal girls could never get away with that. But crazy girls? We get by just fine.

Crazy girls mean things stay interesting. I used to be self-conscious in my craziness, but now I embrace it whole heartedly so much so even the word “crazy,” as politically incorrect as it is, has brought with it such adventure, I am beside myself in gratitude.

Crazy girls mean things always change. It means no plan is set in stone. Ever. It means talk of R&R but trips booked to Vegas. And once you become one with your craziness suddenly life seems different. New. Like everything before was rose tinted. Like we all had blinders on. Like we’re older now and more grown up. Improved versions.

Two point oh.

Normal girls know themselves, or maybe they don’t, but the normal girls I know do. They go to work and make lunches in advance and take on the world prepared, effortlessly almost. My normal friends do normal things like buy popcorn AND candy at the movies. And they drive cars like normal. And they dress normal. And they buy houses like normal. And they fuck normal. And I used to envy normal because at least there is structure in normalcy, something every crazy girl needs now and then. But there is also discipline. And explanations. And accountability. And I don’t always have those answers or even know the questions to begin with.

And I used to feel bad, horrible even, a guilt conscience that ripped at my heart and made my insides bleed and spill all over the floor, through the drains and into other dimensions, every time I couldn’t explain myself.

Sometimes crazy girls get confused, I’d say. Forget the day, forget the time, forget meds.

Sometimes crazy girls get lost and found and lost again.

Sometimes crazy girls don’t get it, any of it, ever.

Or maybe that’s just me and I’m the only crazy one or perhaps not even crazy at all.

Maybe he never even said that.

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

J’ai peur

1st Halloween

I love Halloween. I dress up every year. I haven’t always gone all out in the costume department–and it was my parents who took care of it for my first few years–but, as sure as Chucky is a creepy doll, I mark the occasion with a masquerade.

For my first experience of the door-to-door ritual North America calls “trick-or-treating,” I was dressed as an angel. I was two years old. My friend Katie, who was my next door neighbour, was dressed as a clown. That was 32 years ago. Thirty-two. Years. As a little girl, before puberty and after most of my baby teeth had been replaced with the permanent choppers, I had a real obsession with dressing up as a gyspy. Who knew little me was so clairvoyant. When applying for my latest apartment, I was forced to look back at my residential history. It appears I’ve moved a lot. I’ve been restless, I suppose. Or perhaps I seem more transient because of the people to whom I compare myself.

Katie is a single mother to a son and works as a law clerk. Joanne has a son too; and a daughter, a husband, a dog, a cat, a nice teaching job, and a mortgage. Joanna isn’t married and doesn’t have any kids; however she works with children, as an instructor therapist. She’s getting her masters and she does yoga. Sarah is a high school teacher with an accountant husband, two children, and has a third one incubating. It’s not often we ladies “hang out” anymore, but we come together for the big stuff; the important stuff; the happy stuff; and absolutely the sad stuff. We catch up on what’s new. Laugh about that time when that happened and, she said this, and we wore that.

We were together a few weeks ago and for a moment, it was like we were teenagers again: full of hope and ideas and laughter. But then the conversation shifted. The topics were not on my life resume. Conversation obstacles galore! Child birth: nope, haven’t done that or actually witnessed a live birth. Not pregnant. Nothing relevant to say there. Next: curriculums. I’m not a teacher and it’s been 12 years since I took a course of any kind. Dietary concerns: not so much. I have dietary preferences. I can eat as much cheese as I want to. And then the conversation shifted to the reason we were all together: losing our parents. We were at a funeral. Joanne lost her mother to the dirty bastard that is cancer.

Only two of us have both parents. One of us has had the misfortune of losing a father and then a step father. We’re not getting any younger; which means our parents are getting even older. And those of us who aren’t parents yet? Maybe we won’t become parents at all.

When did I get old? Or, rather, when did I get stuck in this weird zone where my 20’s seem like a distant, fuzzy dream? When did the idea of dealing with a hangover become more unbearable than child birth without drugs? When did I become the person who worries about taking care of my parents–and why does it scare the shit out of me?

I’m terrified that I won’t have a family of my own–and I just decided I want one! The proverbial Everyone tells 20-somethings You that You have LOTS of time to decide on something like becoming a parent. But you don’t. You really don’t. You get to your 30’s and all of the sudden–tick. It’s the–tick, tick–biological clock that is tick tick TICKING (yes, that’s a My Cousin Vinnie reference, thank you Marisa Tomei). What about my health; sure I can take care of myself, but… Joanne’s mom was only 57. I say only 57, but then I turn around and say 34 is old. It’s a perplexing time. I’m afraid to die and I’m weighed down by life. I don’t have the career I always thought I’d have (let alone the income). I haven’t traveled as much as youngster me had planned to. My bucket list has a load of empty checkboxes, including the “get married to someone who is in love with me completely and whom I’m in love with fully and completely as well.”

I have a friend Angela who has been married for 10 years. I was the maid of honour at her wedding. We talk a fair bit and I know she has some of the same fears and concerns about her own life as I do about mine. However, I totally have a “grass is always greener” envy going on when I look at her. She and her husband Mike are like fictional characters Lily and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother. They’re amazing together. To me, while, sure, she could do lots of things starting now and becoming future Angela, to me she has something to be so proud of: that relationship she has with her husband. And, just like Ted from that damn TV show, I want that. I want what I think they have. And I’m petrified I’ll screw it up.

I’m dating someone right now, you see. He’s wonderful. I want to marry him and spend the rest of my life with him. I’ve never been so sure of anything. And what comes with this clarity? Fear. BIG FAT FEAR.

I love Halloween. It’s this day where you can dress up and be someone else. Be someone fictional and legendary. Be someone ghoulish and creepy. Be someone magical. Halloween is magical. When I’m someone else, the next day, when I go back to being just me, I’m not diappointed, as my ramblings might suggest I would be. I’m relieved. I look in the mirror and there is familiarity the day after Halloween. It’s me. And I’m alive. And I’m not so bad (I have some pretty darn good friends who I would not have if I were such a fuckup). And I have a whole bag of tiny chocolate bars.

Trellawny works in advertising, loves cooking, and is in a long-distance (but totally awesome) relationship. Names of her friends have been changed in this post due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. 

Regrets: Just Another Thing I Can’t Afford.

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When I moved to Calgary 7 years ago, I had no idea that my split-second decision to give the West a chance was going to define the rest of my life. At the time, I was a hippie Literature graduate with a spirit I can now only envy while simultaneously shaking my head. I went to University in a small city where I could walk anywhere I wanted or needed to go.  I lived frivolously with my student line of credit. I experimented with clothes, hair styles, music, and, with other undergrads. It was a time of wild excess and freedom unlike anything else before or since.

Calgary was going to be the next big adventure.  There were jobs aplenty; I couldn’t wait to see the mountains, and most importantly, there was a guy who wanted me here. THE guy. You know the one I’m talking about. The two of you are friends who flirt, probably a lot.  He’s always involved when you’re single or vice versa. You go out to a club together with mutual friends and buy each other shots like sex on the beach. In other words your feelings are about as subtle as a flying brick but neither of you does anything about it.

Yeah, that guy.

After graduation he moved away and I went to my small hometown for the summer. We spoke on the phone four nights a week. Inexplicably, I missed him a lot more than I would a mere guy friend. So in typical me fashion I up and bought a ticket for YYC departing a few days later with $800 in my bank account, my measly credit card, significant student debt, and no place to live.

“The guy,” who is now my wonderful husband, offers me a couch and picks me up at the airport.  I don’t need it; I sleep in his bed.

That’s the kind of carefree individual I was.

A few weeks later I’m a waitress at a pizza joint with a bunch of kids who have no idea why someone with a degree was serving iced tea. I can’t give them an answer because I don’t know why either, other than jobs in writing are sparse, particularly creative writing.

The next few years are much the same. I work somewhere I don’t like or don’t fit in, assimilate a little more into the guy’s life, and write on the side. Four jobs come and go and our friends begin to think I’m a little eccentric. They are right, of course. They are also more practical than I am.   I’m broke.

Time passes and soon I begin to realize that a small spark in the always-optimistic me has faded, and, whether it’s simply age or circumstance I get a bit cynical. Bad bosses, bad drama, bills, and small insecurities take their toll.

The refrain remained the same. Be a good person, keep trying, keep writing, and keep looking. Something will turn up, things will turn around.

They didn’t and haven’t.  Still broke.

Writing is a challenging career and is often very isolating. Like many other writers I found that I started to drink a little bit too much and write not quite enough. I would eat poorly and sleep worse. My habits were not those of the successful-though-naïve hippie type I once was, but of a woman who was headed downhill.

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The strange thing is that throughout it all, the question of whether or not ‘the guy’ and I were meant to be together was never once an issue. Sure, things were hella difficult at times, and still are, but as a result our relationship is tighter than a Chinese finger trap.

And really, I don’t mean to sound like these past 7 years have been all bad because they haven’t. It’s quite the opposite, actually. I’ve made some wonderful friends. My family are truly amazing in every sense of the word. I love my husband.  I’ve learned to enjoy camping and hiking.  I’ve read some good books.  I’ve written a (pretty good) book myself. I’ve written some other things I’m really proud of.

Does that mean I don’t have any regrets? Of course not.

When I was younger I thought that regret was useless because feeling it couldn’t change anything. It only referred to the past and the past was beyond our reach; pointless. But then, when I was a kid I had nothing to regret in the first place and therefore no true concept of the word’s actual meaning. For example, I know now that it’s possible to regret things that haven’t even happened yet. Regret for an idealised, fantasy-future that can’t be.

I don’t regret my split-second decision to move here because I probably wouldn’t be married now and that’s something I wouldn’t change for the world.

I don’t regret pursuing Literature in school because as impractical as it may be, it wasn’t just any old option it was the only option. Because that’s who I am, that’s me.  It would be nice if I had pursued my Master’s degree before buying a house. I can’t afford it now and don’t know when I’ll be able to.

In life, there are sacrifices we make every day: for our loved ones, for work, for others, and for our sanity. As a writer my main sacrifice is a financial one. Choosing this life means not being able to afford the things that my friends and neighbors afford with ease. It is also a sacrifice of pride, in some respects, because many people will simply not be able to understand why you do what you do.

But it isn’t a sacrifice of who you are, and that’s why regret is just another thing that I can’t afford.

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Ashley Britten is a freelance writer with a BA in English who has recently completed her first novel in a YA trilogy. Ashley lives near the Canadian Rockies with her husband, their dog, and her betta fish Clyde. Follow her on Twitter @AshDWalsh until her new home on the interweb is up and running.