Category Archives: memory

nostalgia fever

I recently read Ling Ma’s Severance, an apocalypse story in which there are parallels between survival and haunting, between being a drone and being a zombie, and between nostalgia and death.  Towards the end of the book, there are multiple scenarios when a weakness for nostalgia results in an individual contracting Shen Fever, the fictional ailment that causes individuals to repeat a motion or a routine, over and over, until their bodies actually disintegrate.  Ma draws a parallel between nostalgia and repetitive motion, between the false comfort of repetitive thought and the disease of action loops.  It is not entirely different from how I think of nostalgia myself, as a trap, as something to be caught in.

In the winter of 2017/18, I was working as a contractor on a client where I wandered like a ghost in the halls of the corporate headquarters, unacknowledged and unaccounted for.  I watched as events unfolded around me, unable to communicate or connect to impact the changes that took place in my work.  I would then indulge in nostalgia for the hour long ride back to Manhattan from the HQ in New Jersey, listening to Matt Good Band, pretending the lights of New Jersey were those of North Van, dreaming of a parallel reality in which NYC would become YVR.  There is a connection between a sense of disconnection and an addition to nostalgia, a need to ground oneself in not just comfort, but a place one knows by heart.  Perhaps that is why I do not feel a need for nostagia as much now as I did last year, when I was less .

And yet.  I am heading home to British Columbia in a few days, which I have not returned to in four years.  I have never left British Columbia for this long. However, with my mother and sister now in Toronto, going home to BC is not my priority, and while I will always see Victoria, randomly, in my thoughts and in my dreams, I do not need to visit it in reality. There is tremendous comfort in visiting a place I know by heart but the reality is, I know it by heart, I carry it with me. Indulging in nostalgia, to me, is a trap.

I still updated my Off the Island playlist this week to better chronicle my memories of who I was when I dreamed of leaving, and who I was when I left. Last Parade, from the “Vancouver” album, is my longterm Vancouver look back song, as, like most Matt Good Band songs, it strikes me as if it should be the soundtrack to a Douglas Coupland novel, and it has the one line, “black out, wake up foreign, wander home”. That is how I feel, still, some days: like I have woken up foreign in America, like I will, eventually, wander home through YVR.

The rest of the songs are the ones I identified with the most from about 1994 on, the mix of sorrow and hope and fear and love of the years after high school, from the Pacific Northwest dream of the Posies’ “?Will You Ever Ease Your Mind?” through the heartbreak of “Little Earthquakes”, all the way through the calm of “Halcyon & On & On”. My flip sides of the top Canadian music in 1997, the social optimism of “Clumsy” and the loneliness of “The Sound Of”. The sheer despair and hopelessness of “Strange Days”, which I wept to, living in Texas, far from home. My eventual return to UBC to finish my degree in “Nightswimming”, which I remember from the night REM played T-Bird Stadium, sitting on the stadium roof singing along with a half-dozen friends. My second attempt at taking on America in Los Angeles, the egotism of “Muzzle” and the quiet optimism of BT’s “Great Escape”. My goodbye to Victoria in “Goodbye”, the song I listened to the most the year my father died, and finally, the end of my journey Off The Island, and the start of my love story with my husband in SVIIB’s “Ablaze” (you told me all you saw was diamonds/you told me that ’till I believed).

I do not listen to these songs very often because I am afraid that the only verb appropriate for nostalgia is “to wallow in”. There must be a more dignified way to experience nostalgia, as something one daintily dips into, something one takes in as a controlled substance, not as an unpredictable, current-laden substance that knocks one off one’s feet and leaves one prone to ill events. I am, however, unable to think of that, and so, even my nostalgia playlists tell a story in which I exit that state and move on, in which I end the journey through my own memories and come out into the present, clear eyed and awake. The narrative leading into the now is my defense against the unpredictability of nostalgia, an inoculation against the fever.

I go home in two days and I’m not quite sure I’m ready for it, or that I will ever be ready for it, as if I am a boat to be swamped, as if I can be overcome. The challenge will be to keep going without wallowing, as easy as wallowing may be. I’m not sure I will ever be ready for it, but Westjet’s check in notice reminds me, I am out of time to prepare. I have woken up foreign and will wander home, but at the end of it, I will pick myself up and remember: my real life is in Brooklyn, and that is where it will be good to be back home.

return to omnicom

Fourteen and a half years ago, I had my first day at Tribal/DDB.  This coincided with my first day in Los Angeles, the day after I drove Zippy the Wonder Saturn down from Vancouver.   I was 25, and I was heading to the big city to work in an advertising agency.  It was the most exciting – and one of the best – decisions I ever made, to pursue my career in digital marketing with an agency in Los Angeles.   I only stayed a year at Tribal before moving on to Integrated Media Solutions, but it was a great agency to start my career at, and gave me a solid foundation for #agencylife.

Today, I returned to an Omnicom agency when I started work at OMD USA, a highly decorated media agency.  A few things were different as I’m now obviously much older (and hopefully wiser) and more experienced, but I still felt a lot of the same excitement I experienced when I started in the binoculars building in Venice Beach.  This morning that moment was when I came out of the subway, saw the new WTC 1 tower down the street, and remembered with gratitude that I am living my dream.

I also dress very differently now for my leadership level jobs in NYC than I did fourteen years ago for my entry level role in L.A.:  today I wore a velvet jacket over a blouse, with black jeans and flat tall boots.  I also wear a lot of makeup that I didn’t need when I was a 26 year old assistant interactive media planner.  I’m going in to manage the assistant media planners (and the media planners, and the media supervisors, and the media directors) as an Exec Account Director.  So since I am now the management level grownup I was in total awe of in 2004, even though it is Friday, I still dressed up a bit:

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Best thing from my stint on L’Oreal: I learned how to use undereye concealer.

My first impressions of the job are positive, both in terms of the team as well as my role within it.  It will take me weeks to really understand the mechanics and politics and details, but my surface level impression is that this role is a good fit for me and for my own growth goals.  As I wrote a couple weeks ago, my career path was growing stagnant, as the clients I worked on became more limiting and less conducive to my own goals as a leader.  I needed bigger and better opportunities.  I’m lucky in that I was able to find a position that, based on my first day’s interactions, seems to be the step up in my career I was searching for.

Finally, one of the best technological innovations since 2004, aside from all the technology that actually makes my job possible, is the invention of better coffee machines.  I did not have to embarrass myself on day one by spilling coffee all over the break room as I did in 2004, but rather, was able to make myself look clueless by holding up the line while I got overwhelmed by the number of choices on the touch screen.  Progress!

i has a tween!

I find it exceptionally hard to believe two things:

  1. ten years have already gone by
  2. the 4’8″ 67lb creature that just tornadoed through the house in search of pants is the same entity who used to be this little angry meatloaf here:

Granted, we do actually have a photo record of him getting larger.

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Also, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t swapped out anywhere along the line because at this point, he literally looks like my face on Paul’s body.

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It is, however, slightly disturbing to think that I HAVE A TWEEN.  This creature is literally a tween.  He is ten.  He is his own person, although that person seems to be a class clown.

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Thankfully, these two awards (received yesterday, 6/18/18) balance each other out.

It’s a weird thing being a parent.  The best description I ever read of it was that it feels like your heart is walking around outside your body. This is my son.  This is the being who is the most important thing in the world to me, whom I would literally do anything I could to protect.  And here he is becoming his own person who is able to walk around in the world without any oversight or protection from me.  Worse, he’s becoming a totally different person all the time as he grows up and becomes whoever he truly is in there.

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Still.  I have a tween now, a boy who is halfway to being a man, a creature who will spend the second decade of his life building the foundation of the person he is meant to be.  My job is to support him as he becomes that person, and then boot him out into the world, because he is a terrible roomate (underwear everywhere, eats all the cereal, leaves dishes out).  It is strange to think that I have been doing that job without any formal training, because helping to create and then raise another human seems almost meta in its vast responsibility.  And yet, we have been doing that job, and we have, so far, produced a fairly decent human being.

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We have a tween.  Ten years ago, when they handed me my son in a bundle at Cedars-Sinai, I could not have imagined getting to this point.  I’m sure I’ll feel the same way when I look back at Mister Class Clown here from his junior year of college.

all grown up now

I wasn’t going to post this originally – and then I got into a discussion about high school elsewhere on Facebook, and decided to do so anyways.

I had a nightmare about high school last week. Or rather, about the high school reunion, the one I didn’t attend two years ago (I had walking pneumonia and it was the weekend of the 2nd Annual BPSA Moot. Even i had been well, I had grownup obligations.)

In this dream, I was at the reunion, with a lot of the same people I am now Facebook and Instagram friends with. We were all as we are now, adults. And I started making a speech about how I forgave everyone for their cruelty, about how glad I was that we could all be friends as adults, that we could now be grownups with so much in common.

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This is the “old” wing of Oak Bay High’s “East” building, 1929 – 2015.  The school was demolished and rebuilt in 2015, the year of our twenty year reunion.

After all, my high school classmates are, like me, products of the Canadian middle class in the late twentieth century. We all share the same cheerful view of our homeland (similar to our fellow GenXer Prime Minister’s) instilled in us by years of CBC and the Ministry of Heritage, tempered with our years of trying to grow up during a provincial recession. We are all from Victoria, a city between Vancouver and Seattle, a weirdly schizophrenic city poised between the nineteenth and twenty first century. We should have tons in common by now. And, as we all have entered the Grown Up phases of our lives, with partners and children and/or other dependents, those commonalities have increased, and I’m actually now engaging more with People I Knew At Oak Bay High than I was when we all actually went there.

Having much in common and even renewing friendships (in a range from genuine to superficial) does not make up for years of cruelty and exclusion in my subconscious though. When I looked up, in my dream, from this heartfelt statement of forgiveness and subsequent emotional investment, everyone was gone, off to hang out at a classmate’ s business. They had all left to go socialize and had not even told me they were leaving the reunion, much less invited me along.

In reality, when awake, I would disregard that behavior as ridiculous.  Real adults address their problems with other adults.  It is children who exclude and abandon out of a heartless combination of thoughtlessness and malice, a combination that is unacceptable. Still, if an actual grown-ass adult behaved that way, ghosting my company without a goodbye or explanation, I would, to this day, pause to consider my behavior, to try and figure out if I had done something to justify exclusion before realizing that it wasn’t my fault.  Other adults’ childish behavior is not deserving of my introspection or self-blame.

In dreams though, that kind of learned, logical, corrective behavior doesn’t kick in. In dreams, we’re poking around in corners of our brains that our waking selves have long since papered over.  So instead, I just felt the deep humiliation and shame I would have as a teenager.  I just felt like I had done something wrong, and that people didn’t like me, and it was somehow my own fault for being too emotionally needy and clumsy, too messy, too loud – and too ugly and fat to be able to make up for those shortcomings.

And that’s when I woke up.

It’s twenty years since high school, and I’ve had to accept that I am never going to be able to gloss over the decade between grades two and twelve. I believed in my teen years that I was undeserving of human contact because of my failure to modulate my behavior and my physical shape in a socially acceptable way.  I was too loud and too emotionally sloppy, a bad combination to start with, a lethal one when combined with a status as “the fat girl”. It was ten year period that started with elementary school cruelty, ran into the middle school meanness, and ended with senior high loneliness, as the childhood mockery dwindled into mere exclusion.

I have reduced both the loudness and my size, placing my behavior and my body well within the acceptable lines of North American society.  Still, as an adult, I now live with a low-level paranoid anxiety that people do not like me, that I am unlikeable as a person – no matter what my body size, unless I carefully maintain behavior that is considered “likeable”. It’s a fallacy that I often have to logically remind myself isn’t true.  Not everyone is going to like me as an adult, but sometimes, that’s just the way things go.  Not everyone has to be my friend.

And yet, here is this old hurt, these ancient humiliations, cluttering up my brain and my dreams.  It’s only within the last few years that I’ve really managed to shake the shame, that sense of deserving all that loneliness.  I’d love to be able to clean this narrative up, reduce it down to just undeserved bullying, but I’m unable to do so.  I think that’s the worst part for the victims of bullying, is the sense that we deserved it based on behavior or actions or looks we failed to change.

Bullying teaches its victims that we should feel ashamed to be who we are, that we are unacceptable as people.

Why does all this matter now?  Or rather, why is this coming up?  I’m not quite sure.  It isn’t as if this hasn’t been dealt with.  I did paper over all this for years, re-inventing myself over and over and over again.  I didn’t want to be the sort of person who had a horrible time in elementary and high school.  I wanted to be the sort of person who was totally normal: well dressed, socially active, attractive.  The sort of adult I wanted to be in my twenties wouldn’t have had been such a freak as a child.

And yet the woman I am in my thirties has had to take all that history out, air it a bit, and accept that yes – this is who I am and this is what made me who I am.  And who I am is enough.  High school is behind us all, and we have all made out of our experiences there whatever we can, taken whatever we can and moved on.  Nightmares or reliving old humiliations doesn’t change who I am today, nor will it change the person I will continue evolving into tomorrow.  The impact that time has on my life is forever, but finite. Perhaps by writing all this down & writing all this out, I can remind myself of that perspective and ensure that random throwback dreams remain irrelevant.

 

dreaming of the edge of the world

Douglas Coupland wrote, in Shampoo Planet, that home is where you dream, that it’s part of your brain’s hard drive.  That we’re all hard wired for our dreams to be set at home.

I’m not terribly sure where I dream these days.  Many days my dreams do exactly what they should do, and parse through the mundane things that have happened to me each day.  Some days, they are pop culture references – TV, movies, books.  And then other days, I dream of my own home, of that corner of British Columbia I grew up in, took for granted and left.  I dream of Victoria.

With no close family left in BC, I’m unlikely to return, even for a vacation, because I know I’ll always prioritize the rest of the world over returning to that corner of it I know by heart.  And yet, every day, I think of random places and it catches my breath in sadness.  I’ll  be caught by a random memory of Oak Bay in summer, or I’ll look at a street in Manhattan and see the West End.  It is forever and ever part of my permanent memory, my own hard drive.

For the past year, since I said goodbye the last time, since I wept my way back across Canada on a red-eye flight back through Toronto last November, I have been trying to push back those memories and focus on my actual present in Brooklyn.  I love Brooklyn, after all – I love New York the way I loved Vancouver.  This is the most Vancouvery place I could have settled with my family, after all, with its hippie food co-ops, overpriced real estate, bike lanes and beaches.  New York City is ten times the size of Vancouver and yet I get it because I lived there.  And I chose to be here, and I work every day to stay here and I love it here.  And so, rather than focus on the past, I chose to push it away.  I thought that would be the smart thing to do.

The problem with the past is that it won’t be pushed away.  It’s been half a lifetime since I lived on the Island, a dozen years since I left Vancouver, and yet I still dream of home.  It’s taken me the last twenty years to realize that not everyone feels homesickness like I do, and not everyone has the emotional attachment that those of us born in the Pacific Northwest do to our homeland.  Maybe I should be celebrating that and shining that light into my own memories instead of drawing the curtain on them. Maybe I should choose to follow those memories for a few minutes each day – not enough to be lost in nostalgia, but enough to accept the sorrow and the joy that comes from spending the first twenty years of my life in a lost English colony on the edge of the world.

And so, I’ve chosen to spend a few minutes memorializing my own memories of Victoria.  The neighborhoods and streets are still there, and many are actually protected by heritage and building laws.  The Victoria in my memory is frozen in time between 1988 and 1998, in an era before the Internet had pictures, a time between when the natural resource industries crashed and the tech industry started, yet it doesn’t look much different than the city I said goodbye to in 2015.  There will never be skyscrapers in Victoria the way there are in Vancouver…but there will be condominium developments, and there will be growth, and there will be big changes yet to come.  When I remember places – a half-finished Songhees walkway, Vic West of abandoned industrial zones, an Oak Bay Marina with Sealand of the Pacific (yes, of Blackfish fame) – they are memories of places that no longer exist except in memory.

I have pushed back memory because I am afraid of homesickness, of the addiction of nostalgia and the past.  These are terrible temptations in stressful times.  I have questioned many times since I left the Island if my desire to go home was pure homesickness or just a longing to return to a time that was less complicated.  After all, wouldn’t everyone like to have the responsibilities of their nineteen year old self for a few days instead of the responsibilities of their thirty-eight year old adult self?  So it is with the fear of addiction that I risk reliving memories of British Columbia and choose to describe them.

So.  I remember Oak Bay, Victoria, the Island.  I remember Vancouver, the Lower Mainland.  I will allow myself to revisit the place I know by heart.  I will trust myself to accept the strange mix of loss and comfort that is growing up someplace that borders on the unreal in sheer beauty, and then having chosen to leave it, as every small-to-medium town kid does, to See the World.  After all, being able to call one single place home means that, as long as I live elsewhere, I am forever on a journey.

When I am self-pitying, that is when I tell myself I’m living in exile Off Island.

When I am hopeful, that is when I can see that journey as being a lifetime of adventure.

And living in Brooklyn, that is exactly the adventure I dreamed of as a teenager in Victoria. I do not need to convince myself of the sheer awesomeness of my present, I just need to come to terms with the contrast it has with my past.

 

los angeles: day three

It’s been just over forty-eight hours since I came over the Tejon Pass, via I-5, into Los Angeles. And since then, I’ve been both to work and to my new home, and yes, everything seems OK.

  • The front of the building I work in is a two storey tall pair of binoculars. Really. I thought that was a Photoshopped image on The Agency site I saw, but it’s real. I drive between the giant lenses to get into the garage.
  • The house I live in has a kumquat bush in the backyard. I’ve never had kumquats before. It also has a lemon tree.
  • Everything about L.A. has an eerie deja-vu quality to it, but that’s from childhood vacations rather than actual deja vu.
  • The smog is so bad that I can’t see the mountains that surround the city.
  • My office is a block and a half from the beach, but I haven’t seen the ocean yet since I’ve been here.
  • Despite there being bike lanes and trails all over the place, and perfectly good sidewalks and buses, EVERYONE DRIVES anyways. And people get their exercise at the gym. They’re all exercise freaks, but it’s rare to see them getting it. Unless it’s in the form of surfing. Or possibly biking down in Venice Beach.

first day at work