Image via Tourism Winnipeg
One of my favourite things about summers in Winnipeg is the annual Fringe Festival. I love the theatre and the huge variety of independent productions that come through the city each year, so when I was offered a handful of media passes to check out show shows in exchange for reviews here on the blog, you know I jumped at the opportunity.
In true "Shaner summer" style, I'm barely in town this week and am only able to attend four actual days of the two-week long festival, so starting last night I launched into an intense few days of plays, writing, and hanging out in the beer garden.
What follows are the plays I've seen, my thoughts, and recommendations intended to help you make the most out of your Winnipeg Fringe experience:
Let's dive right in:
The DnD Improv Show
I briefly thought about writing a more in-depth review about this show, but if you know you know.
Just pick a night and go see it; you won’t be disappointed.
The Sidetrack Bandits
Presented by: The Sidetrack Bandits
I was actually supposed to see the opening show but had to work (ugh) so I was thrilled when we managed to find time on Thursday night to catch this hilarious sketch comedy show, especially considering that it turned out to be their third sold-out show this season.
This was actually my second time seeing this group perform (I saw them at last year’s Fringe) and to say that they stepped it up is an understatement. The amount of slapstick comedy was like something out of a Charlie Chaplin movie — there’s one scene in particular where two of the cast members were trying to “save” another cast member from drowning in a flash flood where they basically threw him around like a limp, flailing Gumby.
There were several stand-out skits, including one where a teacher is trying to interpret what her Gen X students are saying in their internet lingo that made me feel both very cool (for recognizing all the lingo they used) and very old (for the same reason), but the highlight of the show was a song sung from the perspective of a little boy who can’t wait to grow up.
Highlighting the naive optimism of a young kid who can’t wait to be in charge of his own life, it’s a stinging and ridiculous reflection of how maybe being a grown up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
(Except for days when you bike around hopping from Fringe show to Fringe show. Days like that are what make being a grown-up so great.)
This show made me laugh so hard I started crying — make sure to get your tickets for the last few performances before they’re gone!
The Smallest Stupid Improv Show
Presented by: The Improv Company
Longtime Fringe goers probably recognize this title as a nod to the eponymous “Big Stupid Improv Show” and this performance by improv actor (and our pal) Stephen Sim is a unique, intimate, and (of course) hilarious nod to it.
“The Smallest Stupid Improv Show” is a solo improv show that highlights Stephen’s ability to not only think fast on his feet, but to do so with the same charm and wit that any of us who have seen him perform have come to expect.
Based only on audience suggestions, Stephen wove together a completely brand new, never-before-seen story that managed to connect scientists looking for asteroids, a military official visiting a high school gym, and a lonely, bored asteroid hurtling through space.
It’s truly a one-of-a-kind, hilarious show that showcases Stephen’s range and ability as an improv actor, and it’s all backed up by an improvised score by DJ Hunnicutt who was performing live for the first time since losing his sight, which made the performance extra-special.
Six Chick Flicks Or: A Legally Blonde Pretty Woman Dirty Dances On The Beaches While Writing a Notebook on The Titanic
Presented by: Kerry Ipema and TJ Dawe
Besides being a mouthful to say in its entirety, this play is a must-see for anyone who has a deep love of cheesy clicks but struggles to come to terms with how women are portrayed in some of the most iconic “chick flicks” of our age.
One of the things that impressed me the most about this show was the speed with which performers Kerry Ipema and KK Apple run through the plot and characters of each movie, all while providing a searing critique of things like logical inconsistencies (of course perm knowledge in Legally Blonde will always apply to all of Elle’s cases!) and regressive feminist policies (of course Baby is only “Baby” until she gets sexually freed and, by extension, grows up through the male gaze and influence).
An excellent observation punctuated throughout the play was the reference of the “Rose Effect”, which refers to Kate Winslet’s character in The Titanic, pointing out that her character was clearly written by a man because a) she’s totally fine posing nude for a complete stranger, and b) has an orgasm the very first time she has sex.
(All my ladies will be able to appreciate the total absurdity of that experience, I’m sure.)
Jokes aside, an especially poignant moment was when they talked in depth about the havoc that unsafe and illegal abortions wreck on women’s lives (à la “Dirty Dancing”, of course) which felt important and timely considering the recent overturn of the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
As someone who has been fascinated with how movies and culture shape society’s expectations of what “being a woman” is like since I first read Anais Nïn as a teenager, this quick-witted and hilarious romp through some of the biggest cinematic influences of our time didn’t disappoint. Definitely don’t miss this one!
Broadway at The Blue Elephant
Presented by: 7 Ages Productions
As the title suggests: if you love musicals (which I do) then this is the show for you.
My mom actually chose this show as “our” Fringe play of the year, and I was over the moon at the chance to sit and experience some of Broadway's most poignant pieces about love.
Contrary to a big Broadway stage production, “Broadway at The Blue Elephant” is a concert presented as an intimate performance featuring some of the most iconic songs from hit musicals across the years. It’s a simple, stripped-down, heartfelt performance that emphasizes the lyrics and emotion of each song and reminds us as an audience that the power of the human body as an instrument is the most poignant part of a song.
From “I Dreamed a Dream”, to “Send in The Clowns”, to “Some Enchanted Evening” and more, musical theatre aficionados will appreciate the love that has clearly gone into these performances (and some might even make you tear up a little bit — Mom and I definitely both got a bit emotional!)
The vocals are impeccable, the performances are moving, and “Broadway at The Blue Elephant” knocks it out of the park.
Barry Potter and The Magic of Wizardry
Presented by: Dirk Darrow Investigations
Confession: this is the play I was most excited to see at this year’s Fringe. I’ve been obsessed with the film noir-style “Dirk Darrow” series over the years and was super excited to see that Tim Motley is back with a new character and a whole new slew of magic tricks.
Motley appears onstage as a middle-aged Barry Potter (who for some reason is still wearing his Hogwarts robe) who describes himself as a “down on his luck wizard who peaked at 17” who now tells stories to Muggle audiences using a blend of comedy, magic tricks, and mentalism.
Even though you don’t need to be a Potterhead to enjoy the show, those of us who grew up reading or watching the Harry Potter series will definitely enjoy the jokes and jabs made at the expense of the wizarding world.
Delivered with the same cheesy, smarmy attitude that made me fall in love with the Dirk Darrow series years ago, “Barry Potter and The Magic of Wizardry” is a hilarious and engaging show.
The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery
Presented by: The Pucking Fuppet Company
I try to check out at least one puppet show at every year’s Fringe, and I’m so glad we picked “The Family Crow” — after all, how could I say no to a play that describes itself as “Puppets! Puns! Murder!”?!
The other puppet shows we’ve seen have been more like puppet shows, but this one had a more Jim Henson, The Dark Crystal-esque feel. Between the strategic use of the lights, shadow, and an unbelievably articulate series of movements, this play draws you in and leaves you both intrigued and gasping for air (mostly because of the really silly puns).
Described as “a puppet show for grown ups”, the performance consists of ____ in a caw-stume (see what I did there?) essentially acting out a one-man performance while reciting the story of how a murder has been committed in the mansion of the Family Crow, and how now it’s up to Horatio P. Corvus, Sorter Outer of Murders to crack the case.
Jam-packed with more puns than I thought could possibly get stuffed into an hour-long show, this performance is a masterful example of puppeteering and an excellent example of bringing a unique and creative vision to life.
The Murky Place
Presented by: Subscatter Productions
I’ll be honest: while I love watching contemporary dance, I don’t always feel like I “get it” and that can sometimes take me out of the experience as an audience member because I get caught up trying to make sense of the performance instead of just enjoying it.
Fortunately, this wasn’t the case with “The Murky Place”, a series of three contemporary dance premieres from Oriah Wiersma, Alex Elliott, and my friend Kayla Jeanson.
Set to soundscapes crafted from recorded memories, violin, and Icelandic lullabies, the performances manage to draw you in and leave you almost breathless in some cases. This intimate pantomime of the human experience explored through three different perspectives was as moving as it was intriguing.
The show starts with Oriah Wiersma’s slow, intense build up set to recorded memories and interpreted with tense, staccato movements that leave you almost breathless.
Up next is Kayla Jeanson’s performance, set to lilting violin which builds into a personal, intimate, grasping of self that feels like she’s fighting against herself and left me nearly in tears.
Finally, the show ended with Alex Elliot’s performance. An interpretation of an Icelandic lullaby which she started developing during a residency in its country of origin, the performance works its way from an almost claustrophobic binding to a slow, acute series of movements that leave you on the edge of your seat.
“The Murky Place” was a beautiful and haunting exploration of self and is definitely a must-watch.
Field Zoology 101
Presented by: Shawn O’Hara
I went into this play totally blind (my brother picked it as our Fringe show to check out together) and while I got the sense that it would be a silly romp, I don’t think I was quite expecting the level of crass humour and hilarious, deadpan jokes that this performance delivered.
As an audience, we find ourselves in the classroom of Dr. Bradley Q. Gooseberry (Shawn O’Hara), who strides out in a tilley hat, cargo shorts, and a totally-not-fake moustache. The performance is essentially a John Cleese-style monologue amplified by drawings shown on an overhead projector, giving it a real “classroom” feel for us 90’s kids.
As a class we collectively become zoologists by taking a pledge together, and then we settle in to learn about burning nature-based questions like: what are the beauty secrets of peaCOCKS (his emphasis)? Or what’s the virility of a tiger?
While some of the jokes definitely fall into the cringey so-bad-they're-good category (a which I love) one of the best parts was the improv section where Prof. Gooseberry answers questions about animals written down by audience members in advance, showing off his impressive improv skills.
I’ve seen a lot of comedies at the Fringe over the years, and Zoology 101 was one of the best I’ve seen. I literally laughed until I cried.
So while you might not walk away with a deeper understanding of (most of) the animal kingdom from this play, you’ll definitely walk out with a smile.
A big thanks to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival for the opportunity to review some plays and get the most out of the Fringe experience this year!
It's Friday and I'm sitting on the porch in the shade
slivers of sunlight warming my feet
it's finally hot again; real July weather
the dry smell of a Manitoba summer hanging in the air.
Judy is down the street, tending to her garden
perennial flowers and shrubs
unlike mine, which are mostly edible perennials
fiddleheads and rhubarb, blueberries and two types of raspberry
three asparagus plants
chives with flowers we put on our omelettes in the spring.
Around them we've planted bleeding hearts and
hens and chicks and foxglove
delphinium and silver mount and stonecrop
and milkweed to attract the monarchs
(which I saw today and tripped over my chair rushing down to get a snap before it flittered away like a burst of fiery orange light across the neighbour's yard.)
Growing up I dreamed of a space like this
a porch wide enough for glasses of wine and games of cribbage
and my laptop so I can work and write and watch the world go by.
As a girl I lived on an street that later became a thoroughfare for a new development but in the 90's was a single street with two back lanes and ditches and
huge, sprawling fields on either side
I would sit on the hill at the end of the dirt road or stand at the edge of the train tracks and
to the frogs and the crickets and the grasshoppers
(which I barely see here in the heart of the city)
sing cacophonous songs about the seasons.
Now I practically live out here in the summer, perched on a chair with a drink or a jug of water
with a book or my phone or sometimes with nothing at all
sitting alone and soaking up the sounds of the neighbourhood
my downtown oasis in a city fuelled by cars and wide roads and construction.
The hum of the bees, the the kids down the street.
It's not the same, but
in a different way.
"I love you" you say, and I echo it
watching my soul borne raw through the screen
my heart built up through ones and zeroes
we've done this dance countless times
hundreds, thousands, maybe
since we were young
staying up late
with nobody but each other.
When we first met I resisted
steeled myself against you
but you crashed like a wave into me
washed over my grief and sorrow
drowned them in jokes, kind words
and a sense of home I'd never known before.
I didn't know how to love, then
or maybe I just didn't know how to love someone back
who loved me for all the
fucked-up, miserable mess
that I was.
For years I pushed everyone away
believing I deserved to be unhappy
to be alone
(and maybe for a while I did)
but even when I thought I'd succeeded
you never really left.
"Hurt people hurt people"
years later, up late again
dissecting our past like an experiment
peeling back the epicardium
you cradling my four-chambered heart in your hands.
"I know babes" you said, and I cried
because even when we didn't have the words, then
you knew that I loved you, needed us
and here we are.
it's mid-afternoon and I'm sitting on the couch with the window open
drinking oolong tea and
watching White House Plumbers
and working on some business stuff.
Last night we went to Art City's annual fundraiser and danced like crazy
spent time with great friends
caught up with acquaintances
and bought some art
then we came home, put on some music
and stayed awake until the sun came up.
It's been a long time since we've done anything like that.
This is the first Art City party since the Before Times
and it feels like all the old, cool stuff we used to do is firing
all the familiar strangers coming out of the woodwork
dressed in the gaudiest,
most mismatched clothes they could find
(the theme of last night's party was CLASH DANCE)
to dance and laugh together in a big old
Yesterday we cleaned up the garage and Will came over for a bit
and had a beer with us while we swept and organized and threw stuff out.
After he left we BBQ'd steaks
made wedge salad with blue cheese dressing
and cracked a can of beans
and ate it in the backyard while the sun went down.
Friday night we ate schnitzel, pickled cabbage, and potatoes
over beers and laughs with Koop and Christel
and after dinner when we were sitting in
the front yard around the fire pit
a neighbour from up the street came over
just to say hi.
It's been a nice weekend.
We've been back for just over a month and everything still feels surreal
like my reality is still back there
on the top of a canyon in Thailand
in the back of remorque on the back roads of Cambodia
drinking a latte on a balcony looking out over the noisy streets of Hanoi
wandering through the tiny, people-filled streets of Kyoto
so I walk through the big, airy rooms of my house
filled with familiar shapes and smells and
so, so much more space than I got used to while we were gone.
It's funny how quickly you accustom yourself to small spaces
crammed into tiny one-room hotels and one-bedroom apartments
bunk beds on a train, chairs on a shuttle bus
somehow I learned to sleep sitting up
(and that was a godsend).
In Vietnam we booked an overnight cruise to Ha Long Bay, and after shutting down the smallest karaoke party on the boat with Marvin and the Gang
(aka, a bunch nice old old men on a "guy's trip" who were the only other ones on the boat who wanted to sing karaoke)
I pulled back the curtains the next morning to see nothing but water and sweeping, massive limestone cliffs.
Before breakfast we wandered to the top of the boat and stood in the middle, watching the mountains loll by as the cruise headed back ashore.
I looked around and thought "I can't believe I'm here".
There were so many moments like that on the trip:
A look around
a slow, deliberate breath
a commitment to catching every dance of light
knowing you won't
knowing you can't possibly
but trying to anyway.
We were gone for almost three months, the longest I've been away without moving
(which, in itself, feels like a dream now)
and I settled into the routine of change; thrived in it, really
being away opened up something in me that I'd forgotten was there
and a lot of things changed.
But I still caught myself, catching my breath.
And while we were gone for so long that I almost forgot what it's like to be here
I'm still in awe of this place we're building together
to wander around the rooms of my house
large but filled with love
and catch myself catching my breath.
who is sitting in my lap right now.
This morning I woke up and felt his lil furry back curled up against me and realized how much I'd missed him while we were gone.
I've had Toulouse
(or Tig, or
for basically his entire life.
I got him for free off Kijiji after showing up to look at a different kitten who was being advertised for $5, but we got there the woman who was selling the two kittens told me that the kitten I wanted
(a cute red tabby; I've always wanted one)
was gone, but THIS LITTLE GUY, she gushed as she scooped a very small kitten up off the ground
was still waiting for someone to take him home. He was scrawny, loud, and though the raccoon-mask pattern on his face was cute.
He wasn't the cat I'd come for but I didn't want to be rude, so I accepted the kitten when she handed him to me
held him up to my chest
right away he climbed under my hair
and I knew he was mine.
Since then he's flopped all over
and my heart.
Like me, my cat isn't afraid to ask
for attention, and has a big, big personality.
He isn't shy and loves to "huss around" rubbing, meowing, putting his hands on you to get your attention
or straight-up jumping into your lap when you're in the middle of something to meow in your face.
We've been through a lot together, T. and me.
At first we were part of a different family
with another man
and another cat
in another apartment
in a different part of town
in what almost feels like a dream at this point.
The part that feels real
the part I can go back to so easily that I can almost touch it
is the little family John, Toulouse, and I started building.
In bed in my old apartment on Spence St, reading "Reunion" with the window open
Toulouse burrowing into the pillow between us
and never sitting still.
Now almost a decade later I'm sitting in my dining room, writing this, his soft purring warming my legs
and I look down and see the white fur on his ears
that wasn't there before
and I think about the time we have left
how fast it's going, slipping through my fingers
how many days of tummy rubs, belly flops, head pats, snuggles and kisses
(the latter of which he just tolerates)
we've already had together. The small habits and patterns we've developed over the decade we've been together that define so many of my days and nights
and I feel guilty for how long I was away.
But still, I'm happy to be here
watching his slow, easy breathing
knowing that he feels safe with me
and I hope that makes him happy, too.
We ventured out for a late dinner after a long day
and found ourselves in a teeny sushi restaurant
They used these cute little flash cards
(since us dumdums could barely string a few words of Japanese together)
but we muddled through and managed to order the best sushi, sashimi, and appetizers I’ve ever eaten.
I mean it.
I’ve gushed on the Gram about the food we’ve had a lot on this trip
but this was something else entirely.
A totally different experience from
the thrown-together dishes of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Every slice, grate of lime rind, and crack of salt was just so.
and perfectly balanced.
Exactly how you’d expect sushi to be here.
I know the Japanese are a polite culture, but I hope that the sushi chef got some enjoyment in how our faces changed and our eyes lit up when we popped yet another perfectly-constructed piece of sushi into our mouths.
He smiled at us a lot over his mask and we grinned back like the silly tourists we are.
(It’s weird how a culture that can make you feel like a bumbling, uncultured idiot can also make you feel so welcome at the same time. That’s just good manners I guess.)
We ate the delicious salad made with tiny fish I’ve never seen before
dipped one piece of sashimi in soya sauce
and the other in salt as the chef showed us to do
and slurped miso soup
(loudly, to show we liked it)
and wished the meal could have gone on forever.
I only took one picture of the food
since I wanted to be fully present for my first sushi dinner in Japan
(something I’ve looked forward to since I was 12)
but I caved when the unagi nigiri came but was too hot to eat right away
so I kept my hands busy trying to discreetly snap a photo.
Now I’m curled up in the pyjamas and house slippers our hotel laid out for us
Settling into the kind of exhaustion that comes after a 4:30 AM start and a busy
very long, day of travel from one country to another
and when I go to bed tonight
I’m gonna dream about all the sushi I’m gonna eat while we're here.
(A nighttime scene from Hoi An, where we were a few days ago/where I wrote this post)
I’m sitting on the side of the road
on a small plastic chair
next to a small plastic table
small enough that adults wouldn’t sit in them in North America
I’m drinking a Larue beer
which is a local lager that has a tiger face on it
it’s the third beer I’ve had today.
We had two during our lunch after our tour of the My Son sanctuary
where we braved the rain to explore ruins of temples from the 7th to the 10th century
climbing the stones in our ponchos
posing for cheesy photos
peering down into craters
left over from the bombs
the Americans dropped when they were trying to wipe out the Viet Cong.
Staring up at the crumbling
state of centuries-old places of worship
witnessing the carnage war leaves behind.
After our tour guide took us to his "friend’s house"
(which might have been a bit of a racket but who cares
people gotta hustle)
and she cooked local food for us
banana flower salad
fried spring rolls
stir- fried chicken
glass noodles with veggies
morning glory stir- fried with garlic
and bananas for dessert.
We showed our guide pictures of
cars covered in snow
our frozen rivers with skaters and skiers
and the pop-up restaurant we build on the ice
and watched as his eyes widened
because he couldn’t imagine anywhere
being so cold.
But now we’re on the pier next to wooden boats decorated with
and Christmas wreaths
hiding under umbrellas to avoid the drizzle
talking over the sound of street vendors
and inboard motors
and endless motorbikes
soaking up the soggy sounds of the old city.
I'm writing this on our balcony in our AirBnB in Pai, Thailand.
Most of what I can see are big palm leaves but in-between them I can see the tin roofs of houses
a satellite dish, trees
and, way off in the background
some of the most jaw-dropping mountains I've ever seen.
Pai is a tiny city of about 2,300 people high up in the Northern part of Thailand and is a popular spot for hippies
which you can tell right away by the abundance of
yoga studios, meditation workshops
kale and chard growing in every shop, and
more ads for avocado toast since I was in Toronto last fall.
We're here for none of those things because in addition to being a hotspot for hippies, Pai is also close to waterfalls and natural hot springs and a land split we're planning to check out while we're here.
Tomorrow we'll have been in Thailand for a week. We started to leave Canada last Friday and our flights were originally supposed to be
Winnipeg > Vancouver > Tokyo > Bangkok
but because air travel is a shitshow right now our first flight got delayed which threw off the rest of the connecting flights since we only had a 1-hour layover in each place
(which already felt like playing with fire)
but the superheroes at Air Canada booked us on a new route that was
Winnipeg > Vancouver > Bangkok
which came with a 9-hour layover in Vancouver and a 16-hour flight right to Bangkok.
Protip: if you have a long-ass layover, and especially if you have a long-ass flight ahead of you, shell out for one of those fancy lounges with free food, drinks, and omg a shower. Life changing stuff, let me tell ya.
We landed in Bangkok around 5 AM and split a taxi with Cort and Abe and Josh who we met on the plane to get to our respective stays. I was getting crabby in the wet, humid Bangkok heat but as soon as we got into our AirBnB and I showered 16 hours of plane stank off myself
(what is it about planes that makes you so gross?)
I found a new lease on life so we set out to to reacquaint ourselves with that big, bustling, sweltering city.
We haven't been back to Thailand since 2019 and it's soooooo good to be back.
Even though we pulled it together to met up with the boys and had dinner with Josh we were wiped from two days of travel
(we left Friday AM and arrived in Bangkok Sunday morning)
and crashed at like 9 PM like old people.
Over the next few days we got Thai massages, pedicures, ate super cheap (like $2 each) food from roadside stalls, met up with some folks from Winnipeg (!!) and clocked about 30,000 steps every day wandering around.
Wednesday we caught the night train up to Chiang Mai, and waking up to the sunrise over the Thai countryside was every bit as beautiful as I remembered.
Chiang Mai has been my favourite place we've been in Thailand to date. We spent a week there last time and it didn't feel like enough and this time we were only there for two nights because it's the stop-over on the way to Pai and it definitely wasn't enough.
But in two nights and one whole day we managed to squeeze in:
dinner at the Cowboy Hat Lady's stall (of Parts Unknown/Anthony Bourdain fame)
shopping and drinks and wandering around the night market
ringside seats at a Muay Thai tournament
sitting VIP at a drag cabaret show
(where John got pulled up onstage and made his debut as a drag queen)
visiting at least a dozen wats (temples)
and clocking lots of steps
so, so many steps.
This morning we got up early and took a bus to Pai which can only be accessed by infamously windy roads where apparently people regularly barf on the bus from motion sickness.
When I first heard about it I was like "nah"
but after almost 3.5 hours of
twisty, windy, sharp turns
and a body full of malaria meds
(which we started taking yesterday in prep for our time in Pai, and which gave us both some tummy times)
yr girl wasn't feeling so hot.
To be clear: I did not barf on the bus to Pai.
But I definitely had to spend some time focusing on the mountains out the window, taking deep breaths and humming a lil bit to distract myself from the mounting feeling in my throat.
Anyway I was pretty happy to be off the bus.
Since getting here we've walked around
(are you sensing a theme here?)
ate papaya salad and pork, rice, and Thai basil for lunch
dropped our laundry at a laundromat
had a beer and people-watched
talked about new tattoo ideas
and now here I am, drinking a Chiang beer (my fav local bevvy) and writing this to you.
It's wild and exciting to think we have several more weeks of this
to soak up this country and a few others we're planning to hit
(Cambodia, Vietnam, and Japan, specifically).
I've missed travelling and exploring new places, seeing new things
eating all the foodz
and being moved
and humbled by the kindness of the people we meet everywhere we go
especially the lady at the front desk who helped me open this beer, since I was a dummy and forgot to buy a bottle opener.
I took the beer down to the lobby, motioned to her so she knew what I needed, and she laughed
took the bottle from me
and slammed it against the railing, knocking off the cap
(something I would never, ever do somewhere where we were staying)
and said in broken English "you knock off! Is easy! You do upstairs too!"
(something I would have never imagined she'd suggest)
so I bowed and said "krap khun kha" (thank you in Thai), feeling silly, and went back upstairs.
As I walked back to our room I heard her laughing with her friend
and the way she talked I knew they were laughing about me
and my dumb question
and I loved it.
I missed being a dumb tourist.
I follow an Instagram account called We're Not Really Strangers
(which TIL is based on a card game of the same name)
and the other day they shared an IG Carousel with a series of reflective questions about 2022 that got me thinking about the year that's passed.
A lot happened. It was the most difficult year I've ever had.
There was a lot of bad, but also a lot of good.
Some years just really do be like that, I guess.
My first thought was to use these prompts in my art journal
(which I will)
but as I get older I'm more and more appreciative of this blog
and the memories
ups and downs
and little snippets into my life that I've shared here over the years.
So in the spirit of that feeling, here's to 2022:
Who are you glad you met this year?
Unlike most years, 2022 wasn't a big year for meeting new people.
Coming out of the pandemic I barely went to any networking events
and I didn't really develop relationships with brand new friends
but I deepened my relationships with people I admire and respect
like Florence, Christopher, and David
who are all people who push me to think outside my comfort zone
who ask smart, thoughtful questions
and help me expand the boundaries of my life
(and social circle)
in unique and interesting ways.
Who helped you a lot?
John, Jasmin, Luke, Tineke, Christopher, and Alex-lee were my rocks this year.
I lost a lot of people in 2022.
There's a photo in my dining room from our wedding
our arms around each other, smiling
and some days I can barely look at it
because several of those people aren't in my life anymore
and I lost them all within the same month.
The period between the end of January and start March 2022 was the lowest I've been in a long, long time.
losing people I loved
and feeling trapped and isolated
left me in a dark emotional place
that I was only able to pull myself out of because I had people in my life who cared.
Each of these people went out of their way to check in on me
send me kind words
gave me space to talk about what I was going through.
2022 was more bearable, better, and healing because of them.
Who did you crush on?
(while wearing a trashy onesie
a crimson robe with feather trim
with two of my favourite humans)
was one of the highlights of my year.
Who did you fall more in love with?
2022 taught me to fall more in love with myself
and the people in it.
Loss cleaves you from everything you knew
about your life, about yourself
makes you stare into the mirror, bleary-eyed
"Was I enough for them?"
"Did they know I thought they were enough for me?"
send the message
write the email
pick up the phone and cry into the receiver
"I love you and you are precious to me"
often enough that there was never a shadow of a doubt?
I'll never know and it gnaws at me, hurts me from the inside.
Because grief is like a weapon.
We can wound others with it
or we can turn it on ourselves
slash at our lives and leave ourselves alone.
And for a while
(longer than I'd like)
the losses that defined the start of this year caused me to
cut at my life
but the people who love me rallied around me.
"did you work in your art journal today?"
call me, send me voice memos
wrap me in their arms
allowing me to sink into the safety of their heartbeats
the softness of their chests
"how are you doing?
How's your heart?"
for weeks on end.
These people helped me stitch myself up
and over time, with care
I started to mend my heart.
Picking up pieces of myself
building a new version of me
based on the
cracks and fragments of what I went through
who I thought I was
who I was working to be.
The people who love me
helped me fall back in love with my life
to feel grateful for all I had
remind me that just because you break
doesn't mean you're broken.
So I built something new
not trying to hide from my pain
but embracing them
creating something new out of the gathered-up pieces
like kintsugi for my soul.
Who did you let go of?
More people than I'd have liked.
I lost Adrian, one of my best friends for a decade
and by extension Carlene, his partner and my friend
because he wouldn't accept that what someone had done had hurt me.
This person drove a wedge
caused a rift
in our social circle by accusing me of things that weren't true
wouldn't acknowledge my side, apologize for the hurt
or even be in the same room as me
and when I explained how hard this was
how I just wanted an apology
an acknowledgment of my feelings
so we could just move on
(not as friends, but for the sake of preserving our social circle)
someone I loved like family
wouldn't give my feelings the time of day
and ripped a hole in me.
I also lost Colin, another good and longtime friend
to the same social rift
though, in a weird
(or maybe not-so-weird) way
his loss stings even more.
As things were falling apart
just after Connor died
I reached out.
I told him that Connor's death had made me realize that
time is short, and we need to cling to the people we love
I regretted that we hadn't seen each other in a long time due to the pandemic
and we would love to have him over.
He told me that sounded great and he would bring some cellar beers.
a few days after my falling-out with Adrian
he texted me
and said he didn't want to be friends anymore.
He told me I "hadn't come over enough"
"hadn't accepted his offers to hang out"
(ignoring that we were in a pandemic
and that the hangs I'd declined were with that problematic person).
He said he wasn't interested in continuing our friendship.
Fuck my loss
fuck my grief
fuck my efforts to reconnect
fuck me, I guess.
I should have seen it coming. He was friends with the girl who started all of this.
But his decision to dump me and John, knowing we were grieving the loss of another close friend
was callous and mean and something I'll never forgive, even as I work to let go of a friendship that helped define a decade of my life.
The hardest person to let go of was Connor.
I met Connor when I was 20 and he and Amber
(one of my best friends and "chosen family")
were a safe space for me as I navigated through years of emotional baggage
partying to mask and attempt to avoid dealing with it.
They were people I loved dearly.
We'd been through so much together.
Then, in the fall of 2021, Amber and Connor moved across the street.
They took over our old rental and it felt like the start of a whole new era on our block.
I loved looking out the window to see Amber gardening, BBQing, and hanging out on the deck.
I looked forward to the end of a long workday when Connor would invite us over to hang out, decompress, and shoot the shit.
We were building a beautiful future together
never guessing what was coming
what lay on the horizon.
One January morning I saw Connor was shovelling after a big snowstorm
so I ran over with my parka over my PJs and said
"you know this is included in your rental fee, right?"
Connor put down the shovel, smiled at me, and said
"I know, but they won't do it the way I like"
which was such a Connor thing to say that I burst out laughing.
Just like I always seemed to when he was around.
I stayed across the street in the deadly -40C cold
balling my hands into fists to stay warm
Connor shifting from foot to foot to stay warm
as we talked about how life had been.
I told him about some challenges with my company
how much I was struggling lately
he told me about work
about feeling dejected but trying to make the best of it
and when I got too cold and needed to go back home, we hugged
we said we loved each other
and I said "I'm glad I came over, it's been so nice catching up with you"
and Connor said
"Alyson, seeing you has been the best part of my weekend."
I'll hang onto that memory forever.
Who did you miss?
Of all the shit that happened in 2022
of all the people I lost last year
I miss Connor more than anyone.
The last time I saw him was a fluke
it wasn't supposed to happen.
John and I were supposed to go to Falcon Lake for a week
just to get away from the house, the struggles, the stress
the low place I'd been in recently
but a blizzard made it too unsafe to drive on the highways so we had to cancel
and I was devastated.
I barely got out of bed for two days
I didn't shower
I didn't post on social media
I was embarrassed by how much my mental well-being was hingeing
on getting a fucking break from things.
But somehow, I forget how
Amber and Connor wound up coming over
we made popcorn and snacks and watched Connor's favourite movie
Interview With the Vampire
and after the movie ended we all stayed up too late
drinking wine and talking into the wee hours of the morning
until we got so tired and tipsy that we stopped making sense
(just like I'd done with Amber and Connor a million times before)
and it was what my soul needed
and I couldn't have loved them more.
That was on Saturday.
Thursday, he was gone.
It still doesn't feel real.
I still look across the street and expect him to be there, sitting on the deck.
I mourn the loss of my friend and the new chapter of our lives we were starting together.
I miss Connor every day and I don't know when that will stop.
Maybe it never will.
Maybe that's how grief works.
Maybe it'll get better.
But it hasn't so far.
Who did you spend the most time with?
Virtually, I spent the most time with Jasmin and Alex-lee.
I can't thank those two enough for their time
and dedication to our relationships
especially during this last year.
My two best friends may live far from me
but they're always in my heart.
In person, I spent the most time with John, Amber, and Adam and Brittany.
I saw more of Amber because she lives across the street
but also because she went through a tremendous loss and needed to be
somewhere, anywhere else
so she spent a lot of time at our house
out camping with us
and going out to events to help get her mind off of things.
I'm grateful that she lives so close so I could be there like that for her.
I also spent more time with Adam and Brittany this year than any other year.
Part of me thinks that it's just the natural ebb of friendships
some seasons bring you closer together
part of me thinks that
it's because they know how many people we lost
who we loved
and wanted to make sure we still felt loved, too.
Whatever the reason, I'm grateful for it.
I love those two with all my heart.
I also spent more time with John than I did with anyone
and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Who did you become?
I've been sitting on this one for a while because this year really threw who I thought I was for a loop.
When people you love
who you thought knew you deeply
drop you when you need them most
what does that say about you?
(What does that say about them?)
But the experience of losing so many people in such a short period of time
made me take a step back and re-assess the person I thought I was
and the person I was trying to be.
So here it goes:
At the start of 2022 I became an angry person
someone who felt betrayed
and who let those dark feelings
lead how she felt towards others
I became mistrustful
I isolated myself because
(for a long while)
I didn't think I deserved any better.
But I worked hard to pick myself back up
to throw myself back into my business
(which I love)
and the people in my life
who I love so, so much.
And I tried to let go of this
spectre of me that
this person who hurt me tried to turn me into
and who people I thought knew me
believed I'd become.
Over the course of 2022 I've worked to be
a more honest friend and partner
to express how I feel, when I feel it
to recognize my needs
and to ask others what they need from me
so I can be there for them.
I've done my best to be a better
to forgive and accept without compromising my boundaries
and my needs.
(Which isn't always easy
but isn't that family?)
2022 has been one of the hardest years of my life
I doubt it will be the hardest
and while that makes me
it gives me cause to pause in my body
to breathe, let go
and be present
to look around a room
at the people I love
the humans who I've chosen
who choose me
who make every
worth holding onto.
Clinging to, even.
Because, if anything,
that's what 2022 taught me:
someday we might be strangers
we might lose each other
but right here, right now
and I'm grateful for that.
All the best in 2023, pals.