Two

There’s this incredible gentleman in my life, and it’s his birthday today. I shipped him a box of homemade cookies, which travelled six hundred kilometres to his door and arrived a day late. They were delayed at the border, and—because they were a surprise—I had to worry in secret about what a disappointment it would be if U.S. Customs ate them all.

They arrived, supposedly, intact. 

He’ll be moving back home here in two and a half months, but I’m still not used to his physical absence in my day-to-day life. We talk constantly, but it’s not quite the same (anyone who has been in a long-distance relationship knows this). In fact it’s a strange and altogether disorienting feeling: some combination of feeling lost and feeling loss.

At the same time, it’s given me a really important chance to reconnect with friends in the free time his absence leaves me, and maybe more importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to practice being alone. I grew up in a big, loud family, constantly surrounded by people and rarely with time for myself. Now I have a little place of my own in St. Henri, quiet and calm and warm and a little bit empty feeling without him.

I guess I have the tendency to try to fill that emptiness with cheaper kinds of interaction: surround myself with people just-because, to talk about the weather, to be out. I’m glad that I’ve resisted the temptation to avoid loneliness; it’s helped me practice solitude. It’s forcing me to figure out what kind of flow and pattern my life has when I’m not sharing someone else’s clock — and to find some comfort in that rhythm, feel whole because of it. I recall that bell hooks was actually writing about seeking community when she said it, but surely it still resonates here:

“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. when we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”

And I’ve been thinking about that a lot today. I hope that our time apart isn’t wasted, and that this practice somehow makes me a better person. Maybe more grounded, self-aware, ready to share and be present. Other than the cookies, it’s probably one of the better birthday gifts I can give him.

One

I love autumn. It feels transitional, full of change and newness, but is still somehow so deeply comforting and familiar. It’s my favourite time of year, and until about two months ago, I thought this would be the first autumn I’d spend since toddlerhood without the experience of going back to school. I had finished my undergrad, was (and still am) working full time, with a half-dozen projects on the go, and thought I wanted to take time away from the classroom.

It didn’t quite work out that way, and some last minute gut feelings coupled with an incredibly kind program coordinator landed me back in a university sooner than I expected.  Luckily, the program is designed with my sector in mind, so I suppose I’m getting the best of both worlds: space and new perspective out of the class, and a pretty rigorous academic program to complement it.

So today was basically my first day as a graduate student. My program is in Community Economic Development (CED) at the School of Community and Public Affairs — it’s a year long intensive focused on social change and the social economy.

Today was also the first time I found myself in a purely French academic setting, and honestly, it was harder than I thought it would be.

I guess I didn’t expect to walk in and have to introduce myself to a room full people right away — particularly not the intimidatingly competent, interesting people there today. I’m not the most extroverted person, but I believe in making others feel welcome and comfortable. Had that class run in English I probably would have been the first to talk to strangers, share some positive thoughts, and open up about my goals. Today though, I found my voice shaking and felt nervous and awkward, for the first time in ages utterly terrified of speaking out loud. It’s not that I don’t understand French — I do, fluently, and it’s a requirement of my program — but my accent is notably anglophone, and I lose words when I need them most. Struggling to introduce myself was an unexpectedly humbling experience, and probably only the first among many over the next twelve months.

Like most people, I pretty intensely prefer to keep my awkward moments and failures private: I’m unfortunately one of those people who is either good at something immediately, or who avoids doing it at all costs. It’s more than a little out of character to put myself in a situation where I feel so vulnerable (even though of course, if I divorce myself from my nerves, I’m quite sure that nobody else in class notices or cares). But you know, sometimes you just have to do things with guts and confidence, even when you suck.

After all, my speech will only get better, my nerves can only get calmer, and I’m sure I’ll feel more comfortable eventually.

So today is full of beginnings: the beginning of speaking better French, the beginning of a new program and a new school year, the beginning of learning to fail and being vulnerable in public… and apparently, the beginning of a new blog.