Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Last Day of My 20s

It’s 8 pm, the sky is black, and I just finished a Skype call with my family, whose laughing faces were illuminated by lazy Sunday brunch sunshine. I’m an ocean away, in the bedroom of our little apartment. Two doors away, in the living room, I hear the rustling of gift wrap. I am banned from that room for the night: Jeff is preparing a birthday surprise.  Tomorrow, as previously feared, I will be 30. From the vault of my ridiculous and unfounded worries: I will wake up covered in menopause, with a sudden penchant for raisin scones and trousers that button up just at tit level. Tomorrow is the first day of a new decade, and for the first time in my life, I feel like age means something. I mean, I’m not even sure what’ll happen when the gods above see my un-finished 30 before 30 list, but now I’ve also gotta explain (to someone?) why I don’t want kids or a mortgage (…yet.) 
I'm lucky that my friends are all relatively the same age, and we're all making this leap into this new decade, one by one, like popcorn kernels. Everyone else seems to be doing fine, no one woke up looking like Jann Arden, and it really is just another day. Meanwhile, in Ireland, because moving to another country wasn't enough change, I decided to round up my favourite memories from this decade, to hopefully stop my ears from ringing with the fear that I'm going to be Ye Aulde with nothing to show for it. 


Jann Arden isn't old and there is nothing wrong with her, not that there is anything wrong with being old anyway


2006 would be the year that I turned 20. It was also the year of Taking Back Sunday's album Louder Now, a living soundtrack for my post-teen angst, and a very compelling argument for why oh my god you just don't get it, mom. Remember how cool studded belts were? That said, I'll never forget just how much we felt back then. Every heartbreak, every Saturday night, everything was for the first time and so, so loud. 



At 21, I had my first party. It was at the Minto hotel in Ottawa, and I bought 10 bottles of Absolut vodka. My best friend and I both had platinum blonde hair. There was a group pillow fight. We were young and wild.



I found this picture in my Fall 2008 collection, which would mean I was 22 and in university. This kind of autumn is how I always remember my early twenties. The Postal Service on my iPod shuffle, a Tim's chai tea (2 milk, 1 sugar), my class notes, and the orange leaves brushing past the windows of the bus, on the way to campus. It was the realest romance. Well, not this picture in particular, because here I'm just trying to not cry after hurting my hands hanging off a tree branch in an effort to seem whimsical a-la Meg Ryan.   



At 23, I lived and breathed Lady Gaga. Naturally, I spent a month making this halloween costume, constructing a 3D crystal formation out of cardboard and CDs cut up into tiny disco-ball squares. At the club, I was booed offstage immediately: it was a Sexiest Costume competition and the winner was a Sexy Call Centre Agent. I remember striking pose after pose amidst the booing, determined to show off my crafty ensemble regardless of the heckling. If you've ever done that, you'll know it takes an almost inhuman amount of guts. Was a banana thrown in my general direction? My memory is a bit hazy now, but never mind that - on my way out, I was stopped by a drag-queen asking to buy my costume for a show. Baby, I was born this way.



24 marked my official audacity as a full blown hipster. After a brief stint in Brooklyn's Williamsburg, I was no longer a part of the 'normal' world. I emailed The New Yorker with article pitches, wore ironic second-hand sweaters covered in black donuts, told my government job boss that a budgetary proposition was "masturbatory", read spoken word at open mic nights, attended community events dressed like a colonial woman on acid, 'composed' 'music' on my MIDI keyboard (shoutout Cubase and Fruity Loops), and landed a freelance job writing for a fashion studio. I was vegan, I was into Jodorowsky, and my most prized possession was a pair of old mens' sunglasses. No regrets - I don't think I'll ever be that cool again.





In 2011, I was 25 and had this Christmas dinner with my favourite girlfriends. It was in the first apartment I ever lived in on my own, and it remains my favourite place in the world. At night, you could see the snow falling from each of the corner windows, and it felt like you were in a snow globe. The apartment had old wooden floors and a faux fireplace with a mirror built in. That year, as a very influential and important relationship ended, I found the pieces of the new me, and this little dinner party was the first time I felt like myself again.



When I was 26, I went a month eating just raw food. I've always loved trying different lifestyles, and didn't think it would be too difficult since I had gone years being vegan. That January, I learned what it was like not having a life. I was always cold, I was always hungry, a co-worker said she didn't want to be around me since I couldn't eat anything anyway, and a dude told me I smelled too much like vegetables. I was dehydrating zucchini around the clock, and my idea of dessert was a hot shower. To this day, the thought of "agave-avocado" anything makes me shudder..



A lot happened in 2013, between photography classes and discovering our city's new gourmet street food trend, and festivals, and new friends...but one of the funniest memories is the time we went to New York, just my mom, my sister, and I. We had donuts, and window-shopped, and my mom asked the man at the Gucci store if he had change for the bus, and then fake-argued with a wax Samuel L.Jackson, and then rejected an Abercrombie & Fitch model. Sometimes, the best part of something is knowing how much it means to someone else.





One of my happiest memories in recent years is this one Sunday afternoon. There wasn't anything exciting going on, I was 28 and it was a very ordinary spring day. I had come back from a long run, exhausted, and had picked up a loaf of fresh sourdough bread from my favourite bakery, Bread & Sons. My feet were killing in that awesome way that makes you feel like it's totally fine to nosedive into a ball-pit of cheeseburgers, and I showered and changed into a big fluffy robe. The sun was shining through my bedroom windows as I made a couple of cheesy toasties and lay back on my bed watching This is 40. I think I'll remember that moment forever. It was just me, alone, and it was perfect.



And, of course, it just wouldn't be me if I didn't say that my favourite memory from my last year of my twenties was running the marathon. Up until a few years ago, thoughts of the marathon were right up there with Chris Hadfield and the planet Mercury. It just wasn't part of anything I considered doable or even real. And then, one day, I ran it. And it was incredible. That year, I also went to Ireland and umm like totally changed my life and stuff, but that's a memory I'd like to unfold in my thirties, and I'm not there yet, so for now here's a photo of me at 500 metres to the finish line!


It is now 11 pm and I will be thirty in an hour. I'm in Dublin, drinking a glass of wine I bought with the Euros I made from my new job. My blog URL now ends with .ie and I haven't heard the Canadian accent in months. In all of the silly years above, I never could've predicted this is where I'd be, and yet, here I am. It's easy to get caught up in what you haven't yet done, or what you think you're supposed to do, and as I slowly turn into Reba McEntire in this last hour of my youth, I'm certainly caught up in the stark realisation that I am an unmarried woman without child or car payments. 



But this is where I am, regardless, and if the next ten years are as kaleidoscopic as the past ten have been, then I don't want anything to change. "Want to do something silly for your last hour?" Jeff asks, taking a break from what sounds like either smoking a crack pipe or blowing up balloons in the other room. "We can do knick knacks! It's when you knock on a door and run away," he explains. On the other hand, maybe, just maybe, I'll wake up tomorrow and still be me. 


Saturday, September 17, 2016

8 Before 30

I love lists. To-do lists, to-buy lists, to-read lists, you name it, I’ve made a list for it.  In my desk, there is currently a growing list of food I want to eat in the near future, because I can’t think clearly when I’m thrashing violently Emily Rose style, seized by the satanic hands of Father Hunger. In my purse is a list of songs to sing in my head when I’m on the train, and a list of dead animals I’ve seen by the side of the road leading up to that train. Just kidding, if I had a list like that, it would only have one item: a rat.  Can I just mention that nobody seems to mind this recurring appearance? I’m the only one clutching my chest, gasping for breath when I find myself nearly stepping on its body, mouthing “Oh my God” to let everyone know I am a compassionate human being, outraged by dead rats, and clearly much more sensitive/distinguished than those who simply walk past it. No one cares, and, in the afternoon, on my walk back, the rat is gone. It’s probably the same rat every time. Desperate for attention, he plays dead a couple of times a week, and when the morning rush carelessly walks by (well because they already know this trick and have had enough, cheers) he slowly sits up, fixes his hair, dusts off his knees, and walks back into the bushes. Number of people gasping Oh My God today: One, his list says, Will return tomorrow.



Anyway, following my girlfriend Amy’s brilliant idea to make a list of things to accomplish by the time she turns thirty, and seeing how cool the end result was- thirty fun challenges crossed proudly off her list-I thought it would be great to make a list of my own. You can read about it here, actually. I made the list well over a year ago, and was convinced I would attack it with the same determination with which I tackle my running training schedules and employee appreciation cakes. Nabokov and Hemingway were going to be my dreamy escapes from the harshness of Canadian winters, until I was ass-deep in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged with no chance of ever, ever finishing it. Look, I tried, but despite reading it twice a day, every day, for three months of commuting to the suburbs, I just couldn’t stay excited about a seventeen hour monologue marrying the metaphor of trains with the fickle human condition. 





That said, that year I rented my apartment in a really cool building named after the lead character’s last name, so there. I will finish this book one day, when I’m feeling like re-opening that can of slow-moving worms, but until then, apart from a few pop literature books I read on vacation...










(Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, Jon Ronson's Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries and Lindy West’s masterpiece Shrill) my reading list remained untouched. 

Eight. Eight items have been more or less completed. Looking at it now, I don't know how I expected for some of these opportunities to just present themselves in the span of two years, but here's what got crossed off, and why:





Running that marathon with that awesome finish time is probably my favourite memory from that list. That one I crossed off, fair and square.  




As you can see, #7 is crossed off with a squiggly line which is kinda the way you tell your doctor that you drink "socially" while keeping your foot firmly over the snack-size bottle of Absolut nestled in your purse.  #12 was to see a broadway show, and thanks to my lovely fella, we saw "Once: The Musical" here in Dublin, and I didn't even barf! When the performers were warming up, I briefly thought about leaving (oh yeah, I hate broadway shows) but I'm definitely glad I stayed because it was as genuine and un-campy as broadway shows get. Plus, I had my moment in the spotlight:



And did I grow all the ingredients for a salad? Well, if you're making a salad of basil, parsley and cilantro, then you bet I did! But the reason I'm squiggly-crossing that one off my list is actually because here in Dublin, I've kept my basil plant alive for TWO MONTHS! Two whole months of watering it and clipping the leaves when they get too old (or eating them). It's unreal. Like, guys, it actually fucking grows back. I can't believe it. 
Okay so then there's #19 which is the one where I help my mom with a big project, and that one I definitely did when I organized her move into her new house and moved most of the stuff and I hope that she can't see this part if she's reading this blog but if she is then sorrayyy not sorray. Also, you can read about that in this blog post.
And directly after that one is the one about taking a cake decorating course, which you will soon see is not necessary for me as I have actually become Buddy the Cake Boss. It was Jeff's birthday a few days ago, and I decided that when you are living in a new city, country, and continent, you should opt to bake a last minute secret cake to feed 40 people with ingredients you have never used before - specifically the terrifying F word: Fondant.  Buddy stretches that thing like it's nothing, but even on his show, the pros are always freaking out about the fondant cracking, sweating, peeling off, or just "not cooperating" (what?).  I've avoided it for years and years, opting for the safe and predictable icing scenario....until now.  I don't know what came over me, but I decided to just do it, and without any practice or any idea how to even handle it, I applied the fondant to my cake at 5 am the morning of Jeff's birthday party day. I won't lie, all of Dublin pitched in with ideas. The cake decorating cake store clerk drew pictures of how the fondant should look when it's flat, the grocery store clerk assured me that it'll be grand, the Irish baker tutorial said it would be just like marzipan so don't sweat it...and somehow, the birthday gods came together, and I managed to secretly bake three layers of red velvet cake, ice them with cream cheese frosting, and cover it in the aforementioned cloak of gastronomical terror. And so, when it was all done, before me stood one of my biggest fears, conquered: a steak cake, with marzipan mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots. 





As for the disco roller skating, my very thoughtful guy took me to a disco roller-skating place one day, until halfway through the trip I pulled him onto a bus going to the airport instead, so we could have coffee and watch people travel. No regrets, it was fantastic. We did disco roller-skate anyway, actually, at a music festival this summer…and it was every bit as terrifying as I hoped..

Much grace so elegance wow
And lastly, of course, there was the adventure of getting my driver's license. After a month of lessons with a man named Barry who giggled when I said fuck, and weekends of being an unbearable human being around my loved ones who offered to supervise me while I yelled "I'm not ready for Bank Street!" and "Parallel parking is not necessary in this country!", I passed my G2 test, on the first try. Very proud of that, and embarrassed for the person I was in the weeks leading up to it. Anyway, moving on...



Today is just a few days before my birthday, and I can confidently say that I will not complete my 30 Before 30 list, and the reason that I've written about it here is that I can confidently say that this is the first list I will not complete, in my stash of testaments to my OCD.  Even though part of me wants to bite into a brick, a much bigger part of me is kinda like let’s see what happens. I mean, let’s see what happens when I don’t accomplish a set of crazy goals. Let’s see what happens when, instead of running myself ragged just for the momentary satisfaction of crossing off an item, I let myself have a relaxing few days (nay weeks) and enjoy not worrying about it.  Maybe it's the Irish lifestyle rubbing off on me, or maybe it's the acceptance that the things I did complete have been pretty fantastic, but I think I'm okay with being human, this time. 



And if on September 26th I wake up and I’m still alive, despite that list glowing venomous red with a thousand little Outlook reminder flags, if the sun still shines (well as much as it would in Dublin anyway), then maybe that’ll be the new me: Alisa in her 30s, who’s comfortably nerdy, spends some (most) weekends eating pancakes and watching reruns of Home Improvement, gets along best with old people, and doesn’t always cross every item off the list. Let’s see.