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.
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.
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.