After a certain length of marital life, my husband realized that he didn’t know a lot about my previous life in Canada. From high school to adulthood Benjamin had lived in Hamilton, New Zealand. He lived with a few mates, and it had been a revolving door of a core groups of friends as tenants in a few houses over the years. Quite simple. A to B to C. My story is not as simple…if his life is the alphabet, mine is more like that useless font “Wingdings”, where letters are nonsensical symbols. I’m like the Littlest Hobo, I just roamed from town to town depending on the kindest of strangers willing to throw me a bone.
During the immigration process, we both had to list all the places we had lived in the past five to ten years. Jeepers creepers, who can recall the exact address of that place you flatted with for six months when you were 23? Not me. I could tell you about the emotional scope, or aesthetic details, not directions from the highway. And I’d have no means to deliver a package to the new owners. I eventually just had all my mail sent to my parents house.
As Dr Seuss once said: “Oh the places you’ll go, all the couches you’ll sleep on”. I was always in a transition, but not so much so that I didn’t know where I was going to lay my head each night. Maybe…if I had to venture a guess, thirteen moves in eight years? And that was before I graduated and moved to New Zealand. Thank God for my mother, who had kept track of my whereabouts in her address book, which she had supplied a copy of for the Immigration questionnaire. Places I had long forgotten about, and would not have been able to provide if Immigration really needed me to swear on a bible about where I was living in any given year. I don’t remember things linearly, I’ve mentioned my tabloid calender, if you give me a pop culture reference or major event, and it’s like… ‘Ah yes, September 11…which was in 2001, and I had just come back from a summer in Vancouver Island, and just started university’. It felt like the world was ending just as I was getting started. That’s a pretty universal example, but generally it’s like my life story is hand written scribbles on play bills, napkins and take out menus and stashed between the pages of history. My memories are kept in a very unorganized library; it’s not the best way to keep track of your life, but it’s just how my brain works.
I had just read that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was celebrating it’s tenth anniversary. I remember seeing that in a cinema in Victoria BC, during my reading break. (Student loan dollars hard at work). This movie was devastating to me. It’s achingly vulnerable piece about how even our worst experiences make us the people we are, and how those collections of memories shape our existence.
I was twisted with anxiety at the thought of those memories getting sucked up into some cosmic vacuum.
Ten years ago, my 22nd year, was a time of great tempestuousness. I reckon it was the hardest year of my life. I faced the darkest side of another person, and in turn everything I knew about myself was stripped away like one’s road-rashed skin after a high speed motorcycle crash. I had gone to Victoria to visit some friends, and fell in love with the city. How I felt in the city. The newness of it all. The distance from the scene of so much unhappiness. I knew that I had to come back to live. I finished my semester, unloaded a vast amount of my possessions and went back to Vancouver Island for the second time in my life, this time with intention to make a new life there. Which I did, for a time, but I eventually returned to my English degree, moving on to a Theatre Major, keeping me in school for three more years before finally graduating.
Which brings up another question from my husband–how did you make your money when you were in university? How else? Student loans and waitress tips. I came into a bit of money a couple of times, but eventually it depletes like snow in the hot sun. If I had a time machine that would be my first stop would be to take Thirties Alicia to Twenties Alicia, get her a gym membership and dance lessons, and pay for my education through the majesty of exotic dance.
Student loans certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. As a young, creative, self absorbed drifter who happened to fit in well with academia, eight years of school and part time work dominated the scope of my twenties. A savings account was a mythological concept. There was enough for all the essentials: tuition, cigarettes, wine, travel, clothing, weird thrift store knickknacks, kitschy coffee mugs and dusty records. When I graduated, my traveling nest egg had come from winning a rather sizable scholarship before I graduated. I waitressed at a Mexican bistro all summer and lived at a former professor’s house until I left the country. It was all about jumping to the next lily-pad and trying not to drown.
Having to pay back my student loans was like imagining your own demise, it was too far away to fathom. Now, whenever I have any kind of a Stevie Nicks-Landslide-climb a mountain and turn around moment, I can look at all my wonderful choices, all those times that I should have been prepared but wasn’t, the times I should have listened but didn’t, and all those times I could have been a much, much better friend and couldn’t. I could have been more financially responsible,and better organized in general. But you know…I was busy, distracted, learning, growing up. Who can keep track of time and money?
I could pay my student loans back by writing a book about all the people I’ve lived with. I once wrote a collection of short stories for a creative writing course about the most memorable people and places. I got an A…why not a book deal and movie options? When recently organizing my office I came across the papers and was amazed at the dire conditions I have lived in for the sake of little or no rent. I could write a Twilight length trilogy that would be a mash up Fifty Shades of Grey, Girl Interrupted, The Complete Works of Shakespeare and all ten seasons of Friends.
Real quick–has anyone seen Jennifer Aniston lately? We just watched We’re the Millers, and bless her soul, her face just doesn’t look authentic. It’s distracting. It makes me feel sad. As Benjamin would say, Jennifer Aniston is “tidy”. Yes, she is fit and fabulous, and Lord knows she’s doing a hell of a lot better than me.
Nonetheless, when the magazines crow over Aniston and Cameron Diaz, and all the other face-freezers… that ‘they’ve stopped time, can you believe it?” Of course I believe it, they’ve got a chef and personal trainer. It’s not inconceivable that the better paid stars have NASA-grade accessibility to the best equipment to fight ole Father Time–anti-gravity chambers, access to experimental European dolphin semen serum, that is injected directly between the eyes causing you to live forever. Over time body parts are slowly replaced with plastics and by the year 2065 they’ll be robots that run on Vodka and Botox. Sadly, science still can’t make your hands look young for Madonna is going to have to wear those little fingerless gloves until the end of time. When anyone moons over Aniston in that film I feel a bit like Mugatu in Zoolander. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.
In the film version of my Couch Surfing trilogy, naturally Natalie Portman will fall at my feet to play me. I guess I do look a lot like her, some say you can’t tell us apart. (Just to help you out, I’m the one in the white).
Where am I going with this you ask? My youngest brother has moved to Australia, and conditions have proven challenging for him. It’s a scary and frustrating time, and to me, I’m feeling very bothered about the situation. Yesterday afternoon, I went into a yoga class and my mind wandered over to my twenties, my choices, and how I had come to make rational responsible decisions in my thirties. I can’t tell anyone how to live their lives, convince them to approach things differently. But if I could it would be this:
Hang in there. Have faith. Try again.Don’t give up. Fight Harder. Have fun.Do your research. Be mindful. Be grateful. Know you are loved.
Even though I was an occasional arsonist of my own life and have now rebuilt a sturdy foundation over once smoldering ashes, my advice is meaningless to someone who still needs to learn those life changing lessons. As I imagine a parent would, I can’t help but worry…and wish I could do it for them. But then one loses the all mighty life experience, the reward for all that fucking-up–becoming a true grown up. A graduate of ‘the school of hard knocks’
When I left for Victoria, I stood on that ferry watching the mainland drift away from me, convinced that this was the beginning of a successful new chapter. I had some good friends, all I needed was a job and a room to rent. After the first few days, when the party died down and everyone else settled back into their studies and jobs, it was time to face the business of employment. Ugh. Which brings up one of my greatest ever pet peeves. Handing out resumes is like those scenes in American high school movies. The new kid standing in the cafeteria, tray in hand not knowing where to sit. Smiling and standing at an unnatural state of straightness. Nodding enthusiastically. Feigning interest. After a generous portion of pavement pounding, I stopped into Lulu Lemon, and the salesclerk was about as kind at the shop girls in Pretty Woman.
The job application required details about my education, experience, history—which is another pet peeve of mine…”but all of this information is on the resume I just handed to you”. Why am I transcribing all that information onto the page with the too short lines, eventually requiring you to scribble in the margins, when it is clearly laid out of the resume”?. What a waste of time and ink. If you want to get down to the personal deets–what was the last book you read, what’s your favorite color, how many dates do you got out on before putting out, then sure, let’s explore the psyche on a deep and meaning level before we book an interview. At the Lulu Lemon, the question that stopped me cold. “What style of yoga do you practice/prefer”? Um…something told me that the VHS copy of “A.M Yoga with Rodney Yee” that I used intermittently, would not satisfying the requirements of the tall, thin spandex clad.
Utterly defeated–feeling like no job on earth belongs to me. In reality, I’d only applied to thirty places…just that day. There are so many variables to applying for jobs in a time sensitive situation. These things take time. I don’t even think I had a cell phone, so I would have to get home to listen to the answering machine to see there was any need for my services. I had been there less than a week, and there was a terribly fearful creeping over me that I had made a mistake. It always feels like a mistake when you first get somewhere. You don’t have a place to live, no job–if you don’t know anyone it’s lonely, if you know people they are busy. But it’s the desire to make it work that pushes you forward; something brought me here, exactly what lesson am I being taught? That afternoon, I only made it as far as the pub. I snagged a small table on the patio that overlooked a popular shopping area. All these smiling tourists, shopping bags in hands, strolling by. I ordered a beer, and exhaled deeply before I took my first sip. Putting it down on the coaster, distracted by the passing people, I mislaid it, causing my full glass to tip and pour all over my lap–a cool pair of khaki capris, now soaked in ale. I sat in stunned silence as the beer slipped through my thighs, creating a lawn chair crotch puddle. A waitress came over with a towel, and drew as much attention as I got liquid into the material. I had to pass the packed patio to slink off to the bathroom to push my pelvis as close to the hand dryer as possible.
I came back to the table, mostly to grab my manila envelope, and get the bill, but the waitress had mercifully followed me with a fresh drink. Something to kill the time while my knickers dried, I guess. The couple next to me gently cracked a joke about my predicament. They invited me over to the table, and asked for my story. I opened up about my frustrating day, my crisis of faith. The couple was from Los Angeles, nearing retirement age. He gave me his card: “Jack Gold”–he was a judge, with a much fancier title that I can’t remember –‘Super Judge’ or something. They shared their story–which I can’t quite remember, but ultimately, this man was someone who climbed his way to the top. In his mind, anyone could reach those heights, if they worked hard enough, believed enough, weren’t afraid to get your nails dirty scraping your way to a higher plain. He had offered his services, to call that private line if there was anything I ever needed.
Of course, I never called the private line. Luckily I never needed to call in a favor with Jack Gold: Super Judge. He provided everything I needed right in that moment. I like to think that it’s some kind of cosmic force, like God speaking through a total stranger; telling you that even though you’re unemployed in a strange city and it looks like you’ve just pissed in your khakis, that everything is going to be okay. Pants dry, wounds heal, embarrassment fades and failure becomes our best teacher. Support systems also appear out of nowhere, take a half empty glass and make it brim–and that is worth is weight in gold.
All Images Courtesy of Google