SAYING GOODBYE TO 2009… AND THIS WILD, CRAZY DECADE, PART 1

It’s over.

That’s about all I can or need to say at this point. After all the tributes in newspapers, magazines and URLs to these wild, crazy, ever-changing past ten years, that’s the long, short and middle all wrapped into one.

It’s over.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this big post about the last 10 years of my life. It’s by no means a definitive study of my life. It’s just a small skimming of the surface, but an important one.

These years from 2000 to 2009 have been some of the most exciting and difficult ones of my life. It’s a forgone conclusion that all people change, albeit in mostly subtle ways, over the course of even a few years. To be frank, I can barely recognize myself from January 1st, 2000, up to today. I have changed so much. Maybe that’s why things have been so hard at times for me. Change is incredibly hard at times, and this past decade has a consistently changing one for me. So here’s my attempt to sum it all up. Yet it’s also a chance to do what everyone has to do in their lives: move forward and let go of the past.

****

When I first entered Queen’s back in 1997, I’d be lying if I said I would have expected myself to be where I am today. Back when you’re 19 and arrogantly sure about yourself and the belief that things will work out in a predetermined way, it’s easy to wax philosophical about the future and not concern yourself too much with it. It’s only as you get older, life sometimes gets more confusing and complicated and you discover reasons why even the best people can turn cynical in this world, that you begin to re-examine a lot of things. Your assumptions become as fragile and fragmented as your dreams. You resist looking back on things, because then you have an excuse to not do anything about changing your life circumstances.

Due to my insane memory, I can remember leaving my house that dawn with a friend to go get some millennial newspapers the morning of January 1st, 2000. It was a hazy morning, crispy, crunchy, cold and grey. The world was different in only my mind, I suppose. In the back of my mind, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to Queen’s. The first two and a half years of my time there were harsh, mostly because I wasn’t very good at fitting into things there. I can remember writing emails to groups on campus that sound today like bad teenage poetry. I remember going to campus bars and feeling like I was looking over my shoulder once too often at people I felt could see right through me. My self-esteem was so bad that I threw myself into activities there because it was the only way I felt I would be able to survive Queen’s. I have never been a quitter. I have survived at a lot of things, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let Queen’s University – a place I had always dreamed about going to as far back as grade eight – ruin things. Besides, I had drinking to do and institutions to ingratiate myself with. Well, what else do people do at university besides learning and surfing the Internet now?

The remainder of that year was an exercise in academic, social and personal survival at Queen’s. Somehow, I managed to get through it all: my odd, ambitious self doing things and saying things I can’t imagine I’d do today. Back then, I’d have hated, or perhaps loathed, a lot of people for their actions towards me. I was a furtively (and often, outwardly) passionate person to the point where I had lost the direction, purpose or meaning of many of my activities on campus. I was still not fulfilling my academic potential, either. This madness went on for a few more years, with some addictions to downloading via Napster and a quiet, first-floor bachelor that was often too cold physically and spiritually along the way.

****


September 11th, 2001.

That day is still very much a turning point for not just every damn thing on this planet, but for one solitary kid in Markham, too. I know that sounds arrogant and incredibly self-possessed, but how do you write about something like 9-11 without relating it to personal experience? This isn’t the pre-Wikipedia age, you don’t need another breathless treatise on that day.

I don’t know exactly how things changed for me, but they did. I felt a lot less arrogant after that. I just feel as if things were profoundly different after that. I definitely was a lot more relaxed in ways that I hadn’t expected.

Robin’s face looked like grief. Geoff – who, for the record, is now a filmmaker in Toronto – had this shocked look on his face. My professor didn’t want to talk about the class that day. It was all 9-11. The rabid history of the moment, feeling like it was telling everyone something secret in the message of two buildings collapse. History’s a cruel mistress.

Diatribe’s first issue came out two weeks after 9-11. It was born in the moment. Chaos and memory, so fluid and ever-changing, like Diatribe and 9-11. I was hellbent on creating the paper for a lot of reasons. I wanted to make the paper for my own voice, and there was a small element of vindictiveness in my heart too. I did want to show a few people that I wasn’t all bluster and actively odd. I wanted to show them all. And I did. A gang of outlaws, misfits and weirdos on campus that did what they had to do.

I had started Diatribe with the gang, my academics were finally at the level they should have been and things were better. I had finally, at least in my own mind, overcome my own self-imposed limitations at the place.

****

It was a chilly April Thursday afternoon. I remember sitting in Stauffer Library’s lobby, looking out onto a deserted intersection at Union and University. I had just been at the Tricolour Award’s nomination party, feeling as if I had a moment to review, in my mind, what the last five years had meant. I had come of age, in that clichéd sense of the term, during a time of change that was so subtle and small that I couldn’t grasp it all. None of it felt real. Queen’s didn’t feel real at times. It was a detached, strange feeling I had. For the first time since I had arrived, I was seemingly at peace with the place.

****

“A man’s attitude defines much of what his life will be.”

It all comes crashing down at some point. Life’s never about a straight line up or down. It’s a parabolic curve. It’s a rollercoaster. Some people get the wilder rides than others. Some people choose that ride. Other people get thrown onto the ride. Some people crash out.

I spent 2003 in a state of perpetual uncertainty. Chaos definitely reigned for much of that year, with a spate of tragedies that made me question a lot of things. Again. Emotionally.

****

It was a cold day in October – a typical kind of day for something that feels like turning the page on things. Fall’s all about things ending, really. Winter’s the real end, but fall’s about coming to terms with it.

October 3rd, 2003.

The tree was planted. The people were there. Her friends. Her family. Professors and our Principal. Eileen was finally laid to rest on campus.

I hadn’t been to her funeral in Fenwick, but this was a close second in emotional intensity. I said goodbye. That was all I needed to say this time. I hadn’t had the chance before.

The days in 2003 were rough. Too many deaths. I can remember sitting in the hospital in Scarborough, my grandmother struggling with her physical decline. My mother made numerous trips back and forth to the hospital to see her mom, almost every day for several straight months. Talk about determination.

I remember crying a lot that year. It was a painful era. A great many personal challenges. Getting stuck in an elevator during the city-wide blackout in Toronto. But I was stronger than I thought.

I worked. I made new friends. I was shedding Queen’s. 2003 was the last year I went back to Queen’s for a non-professional reason. One day I’ll go back for whatever, a Homecoming or something. I will go, though.

****

If I had told you back when I had graduated from Queen’s that I’d be back at school within three years of leaving, I’d have told you that it wasn’t going to happen.

I didn’t want to go back to school at first. The idea of spending time in another university for an extended period of time, at least back in 2004, was not one I wanted to face. I figured with my experience and skills, I was good to go. Well, not really. I did have to go back.

I went out east to Halifax at the University of King’s College. I left my family, friends and girlfriend behind and moved into a house with seven strangers.

Did I like Halifax and King’s? Sure, I did. In many ways, my experiences at King’s were profoundly different from Queen’s, but redemptive of sorts. I worked much harder than I ever did at Queen’s. I became better for it.

Am I proud of everything I did at King’s? Maybe. You always hold onto doubts about yourself and your abilities, no matter where you are at any point in your life. I will probably always question myself and what I’m capable of, in spite of my confidence being light-years ahead of where it was even back in 2004.

Check back tomorrow for the second half.

Advertisements

WINTER OLYMPIC MASCOTS

Since I’m going to be covering the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver for Yahoo! Canada, I figure I might as well state for the record that my life is going to be Olympics, 24-7, for three weeks in February. I’m not complaining, though. Ever since the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, I’ve been completely enraptured with the Olympics. I’ve worked for two Toronto Olympic bids, watched both Winter and Summer Games obsessively, covered the 2006 Turin Winter Games for AOL and own a pretty hefty number of Olympics books.

Why do I care about the Olympics so damn much? Honestly, I have no idea. It was exciting and formative back in 1988 to see the Games in the proverbial backyard, what with Calgary. Now that I’m older and well aware of all the corruption and bad stuff that goes on at the highest levels of the I.O.C., it’s harder and harder to look at the Olympics as a morally pure, idealistic extravaganza. Of course, as my brother says, it’s also the only time when nationalism is actually cool.

But enough about all that. I’m probably going to blog about the Olympics pretty consistently now up to and including Vancouver. One of the things I admit I like doing about the Olympics is the miscellany that surrounds them, including the mascots. Oh the mascots. The few, the proud, the sometimes-dorky.

1980 – Lake Placid – Roni the Raccoon

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Adirondack Mountain range? Drunken backwoods huntin’ and killin’? Downhill skiing? The economic wasteland that is Upstate New York? A raccoon? Well, probably not a raccoon. Well, that’s actually what the Lake Placid Olympic Committee chose for its mascot: a creepy-looking raccoon. Check out this comparison:

Now, when you think of Lake Placid, you’ll be thinking of vampires. Stupid Lake Placid.

1984 – Sarajevo – Vučko, the little wolf

Okay, this is a bit better. Still odd, but better than the ultra-creepy Lake Placid mascot, but still not reaching the CuteOverload.com range that future mascots would employ to seduce people into loving the Games. Looks like a European version of Tom from Tom and Jerry, although let’s be honest, the first thought that comes to mind:

ENDUT! HOCH HECH!

1988 – Calgary – Hidy and Howdy, two ridiculously cute polar bears

Alright, now we’re getting somewhere. These adorable late 1980s-looking polar bears showed the world what Canada is all about: soft and cuddly on the outside, hard and cruel as hell to others in reality. Even though polar bears might look cute, they’re actually mean bastards that now eat each other since the polar ice caps have started melting and, you know, caused food supplies to decline to pathetically low proportions.

Still, hats look good. Calgary was still trading in stereotypes as of 1988, anyway.

1992 – Albertville – Magique, the man-star

Holy Christ. This is so lame. Aside from looking like a Coked-out Shriner’s Club Member, this doesn’t even look cute! It’s more scary than anything. I fear the day the French decide to drop thousands of these leftover bad boys onto beaches somewhere in the South Pacific. The French totally dropped the ball.

1994 – Lillehammer – Håkon and Kristin, two humans

Um… okay. See, only in Norway (and possibly Sweden) would this be considered a good idea: two real-life, people that require absolutely no anthropomorphization at all. Lillehammer was easily the best Winter Games ever and the people of Norway got it virtually 100 per cent right, but the mascots are lame. Mega-lame. Thanks for invoking the Olympic spirit, guys. *snark*

1998 – Nagano – The Snowlets – Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki

See, I don’t get it. You’d think the Japanese, with their insane and overbearing love of all things cute, would have nailed this one down pat. But they didn’t: instead, they got four “snowlets” that look like they’re about to get run over by a car while tripping out on some really, really strong LSD.

2002 – Salt Lake City – Copper, Powder and Coal, three… um, animals/Earth-bound resources

This is what happens when you have a mascot by committee: you get mascots named after resources. I don’t care if they’re based on the Olympic motto or animals in the Mormon State of Utah. They don’t even look cute. They just seem boring and drab. Wait a minute, the Games were hosted in Utah… it all makes perfect sense.

2006 – Turin – Neve and Gliz – A snowball and ice cube

Alright, much, much better. After several crap-tacular mascots in a row, the Italians got it right. How can you not love Neve and Gliz? They’re unabashedly happy, have huge round faces, and remind people of:

Which brings us to…

2010 – Vancouver – Miga, Quatchi and Mukmuk – Mythical sea bear, sasquatch and Vancouver Island marmot

Yes, they’re adorable. Yes, they’re well-done. Yes, they’re representative of Native Canadian culture on the Left Coast. No way that’s politically motivated. NO. Freaking. WAY.

And yes, they do look like Pokémon.

I’ll do the Summer Olympics mascots soon.

END OF 2009: GREG’S PERSONAL BEST-OF!

I’ve been off blogging for a long time now, but I’ve decided to post a few things for the end of this wild and crazy year that 2009 has been. I’m going to post after Christmas my personal favourites in music, movies and TV, as well as my semi-annual “Say Goodbye to” personal year-in-review. Actually, this year’s going to be a decade-in-review for me, and I promise it won’t be full of navel-gazing.

Check back on the weekend. I’m going to have, you know, content, and… stuff!