The Classics FamJam

Here in Montreal, I’m typically the youngest in any of the groups I’ve run with ever since arriving in 2008. Coming from another province, my high school diploma was sufficient to gain admission to university; however, here in Quebec there’s this college system called CEGEP that means Quebecois students in university are usually in their early twenties by the time they get to university. And so, at age 18 I found myself invariably the youngest person in the lecture hall by at least two years and often, more.

The Department of Classics, Modern Languages, and Linguistics at Concordia University is, as you can imagine, pretty small. (The fact that the university merged three distinct fields of study into one department should be painfully indicative of this.) By the end of my first week at Concordia I was already pretty familiar with many of the faces five different lecture halls, but it would take about a year for me to really work up the courage to talk to most of them outside of class, if at all.

Eventually though, I was able to squeeze out of my shell just long enough to make a few friends in my program – but then most of them left Montreal to go pursue other things in other countries. From graduate and post-graduate studies in the United Kingdom to perpetually backpacking around the world, they all had something else to do somewhere else in the world.

I’m pretty lucky, though, because the post-graduation “something else” of three of these friends involved staying in Quebec (in the case of two) and coming back to Quebec after graduate studies in England (in the case of one). Ever since Marianne came back from York and successfully managed to get Amanda and Mario downtown for our first reunion pub night, the four of us have kept up the sporadic but deeply meaningful habit. Pardon the pun, but it’s a bit of a hangover from our days in Classics: not only were there pub nights with the former members of our crew, there were also pub study sessions in between classes. Some of the best second- and third-year Latin translations we ever did came directly out of the campus bar.

I will be 26 later this year, but Marianne, Amanda, and Mario are all hitting 30. But the funny part is, I don’t really feel the four-year age gap – nor have I ever with them. In fact, during Amanda’s birthday party this past Saturday I told Marianne, “I know I’m four years younger than y’all, but I still feel old too. Maybe it’s because I feel close enough to you guys to forget most of the time that there is an age gap to begin with, but you guys have also never made me feel like I was too young and too uncool to be a part of this.”

Not all of my friends from Concordia left the city once their Bachelors’ degrees were done, but of the ones in Classics who did stay it’s not just physical proximity that keeps us close to one another. There are common threads made up of shared interests, ideas, and perspectives; they weave in and out of one another and between each of us. One week before gathering to celebrate Amanda’s birthday, we were around Amanda and Mario’s dining room table discussing Star Wars over wine. It was just one discussion in stream of continuous chatter that lasted over multiple bottles of wine, and we continued long enough after the last one to sober up and dry out to get home safely. I crashed at Marianne’s that night, and the next morning she sent me on my way back downtown after making sure I was suitably caffeinated and fed for the trip from Laval back into Montreal.

The important part of all this is that the whole reason why we were at Amanda and Mario’s house instead of at the pub was because we were all a bit too skint to afford a night out, but they had plenty of wine to keep us well-sated. Though the plan changed a little last-minute, there was no question: Marianne and I would trek out to have dinner at home with them on a Friday night. This evolution in our age-old tradition of hitting up the pub reminded me that no matter what you do, if you’re doing it with people you love it doesn’t matter when or where things happen. It just matters that they happen in the first place when you’re together, because that’s what keeps you together in the end. Whenever I look around our table, whether it’s at the pub or in someone’s house it feels like home — like family.

At age 18 during my first week in Montreal, if you had told me I would have found an amazing group of friends who would soon become family to me after I had uprooted myself all the way across Canada to start over, I would have said you were crazy.  I came to Montreal via several burned bridges and with a deeply scarred and wounded heart, and I skulked around campus that first week like a scared lost puppy.  I had no idea that my childhood love for mythology and archaeology would lead me to far more than a degree in Classics, but as it turned out I graduated from that program with three amazing people I’m proud to include in my extended family.

It was really only at Amanda’s party that we officially dubbed our quartet as The Classics FamJam, but in retrospect there was never anything else this particular friendship could have ever turned into besides a family. It’s a weird, quirky, geeky, artsy-fartsy family whose motto is In Vino Veritas, but it works and is full of warm fuzzies and unquestioning support, and that’s what matters above all. We’ve known each other for more than five years now but this past Saturday night was the first time we took a group photo – our first “family portrait,” if you will. But it’s clear from how we all look, bunched up together with our arms around each other, that we’ve built something that’s going to last a whole lifetime.

FamJam

19 March 2016 – Amanda, Marianne, Mario, and Angela at Luce for Amanda’s Big Three-Oh

“Just for a second a glimpse of my father I see…”

Last week I dragged my electric guitar out of my mom’s storage locker and made a Saturday evening of playing scales and riffs that I used to spend hours as a teenager perfecting until I could do them in my sleep. Though I was primarily a bass player and a singer, when my favourite second brother abandoned music for other pursuits I inherited his axe and decided to shred my way through a few hours every day until I could sing and play a decent repertoire of heavy metal. I was really into Iron Maiden and a lot of other bands that rode along in the wake of the NWOBHM, but as I’ve mentioned before I was deeply steeped in the sounds of everything coming out of Scandinavia too – especially Finland, and especially Children of Bodom. Between the respective online forums for Iron Maiden and Children of Bodom I made many friends around the world, a handful of whom are still dear friends today.

Recently I found myself wondering how on earth I managed to get away with being a young teenager with such a flourishing online life in the early 2000s, especially with my father being the kind of man who definitely always wanted to know the crowd his children were currently running with, regardless of how totally uncool it made him (and us) look. True, my ancient but reliable old laptop was stuck in his home office because we didn’t really have WiFi back then – but still! I’ll probably never know what possessed my father to let his youngest child (his little girl, no less) go down the rabbit hole of music that on the surface seemed to be made and performed in one Circle of Hell or another.  I certainly don’t know what went through his mind when I started calling teenage boys (and a few young men) I knew off the forums and who came from Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and Bulgaria my “best friends,” and I certainly don’t even want to know what he was thinking when I said a boy from the Netherlands that I had also been chatting with wanted to come to Vancouver and meet me. (That would be my first boyfriend, and he actually came two summers in a row before the relationship crashed and burned — right before my senior year. Yeah, I got away with a lot more than I realized…)

My dad and I were always close, and the “father and daughter” dates we had when I was a little kid evolved as I grew up and as his disabilities progressed. First there were long walks during spring and summer evenings around the neighbourhood, and then as he gradually lost his mobility we sat together on the front stoop or in his office while I read out loud to him. And those afternoons and evenings always had time in them for talking, and my dad was my best and wisest confidant. So maybe he saw in my eyes and heard in my voice the trust I had and judgement of character I made on these friends, and maybe not pulling out my blue Ethernet cord and sending me to an all-girls private school was his way of telling me he trusted me. And at that time in my life I think that degree of control over my friends and over the music I listened to was exactly what I needed to lock into some sense of stability during an emotionally and mentally tumultuous time.

In my last year of high school there were a lot of horrid rows shaking the walls of our home in the Valley, starting off with one in particular that was the direct result of me announcing that I had no intention of going to university and instead wanted to move overseas with my bass and my guitar and my voice and live the life of a twenty-first century heavy metal bohemian. After I was exiled to my room, I did the only thing my teenaged self knew she could do to release all the anger and frustration: I plugged in my Rhoads, cranked my stereo and my amp, and power-chorded my way through a mix-CD of Iron Maiden, Iced Earth, Metallica, Helloween, Children of Bodom, and Nightwish.

After a while my father came in to talk to me and of course I stopped playing to yell at him. Sitting on my bed and clutching my Rhoads, I ugly-cried while I tried to explain that I didn’t want to be boxed in, I didn’t want to do what was conventional, and I didn’t want to waste time when there were so many things to see and do in the world. As my yells died down to sniffles and as I fought to keep snot from dripping onto a set of brand-new strings, my dad said nothing; he remained silent for a long, long time. I broke the silence at some point with a defiant demand: “What was the point in me getting this far through life if all I’m going to do after high school is put myself into a bigger place with no friends? All my best friends are out there, Papa. What’s wrong with me wanting to go be with my best friends?”

I won’t ever forget what he said to me afterwards.  It was an explanation as to why it was important for me to get a good education without taking time off between this school and the next, why I had to set myself up for the real world and not be a broke and starving musician clinging to the hopes of making it big, and why getting a degree and entering a professional job as an adult would set me up for more opportunities anywhere in the world than going to Europe as a teenager with a guitar on my back and a dream in my heart would ever give me.

“You are my daughter and I love you, which is why I’m not allowing you to run away to Europe.  I like knowing that how I’ve raised you has made you aware of a bigger world, but you have a lot more learning and growing up to do before you can appreciate that world,” he said.

But the one thing that made me listen and the one thing that made me trust in my father was the fact that he came over to me after this lecture, put his shaking hand on my shoulder, and said, “If you won’t listen to me, listen to those lyrics you love and sing so well. Your time will come. I promise you — your time will come.”

And so, I went to university and earned a double-major in two of the most useless fields imaginable at just an undergraduate level.  But earning that degree got me a second job, and working to put myself through that degree in the first place has taught me many valuable lessons that I’ll never forget and put me into friendships that have enriched my life beyond all measure.  In that one moment during my adolescence my father knew exactly what to say to make me believe in his wisdom for just a little longer and trust in him, and I will never forget that.

When my dad passed away exactly four years ago, the European guys who, during adolescence, I had dubbed my best friends were among the first to know what had happened, and they were among my strongest supporters who rallied around me with kind words, reassurances, and blood-brotherly love. They are now men with degrees and jobs and lives and I am now a young woman with the same, but music still kept us together even though those long-discussed plans of making an overseas journey had yet to become reality. My father’s acquiescence to my choice of music and my way of making friends allowed me to keep these people in my life — and in my opinion that makes them a part of my father’s legacy.

It’s a legacy of trust and faith, of seeing the good in all things and in all people; of wisdom and understanding, of knowing when to fight for control and when to let something beloved run wild; of willpower and strength and courage, of being fearless in the face of the unknown.

And my father was right, even nearly a decade ago: my time has come.

When the heat of late summer is blown away by the cooler, refreshing breath of early autumn, I will set my heels down on ground across the sea and kick up its dust with all the surefooted strides of the confident and strong woman that the tempestuous and petulant girl has become.

I am my father’s daughter, after all.

With mirth and laughter, let me continue being surprised by joy

When I look back on my life between 2003 and sometime in mid-2015, I realize that I lived through and survived through a hell of a lot as a teenager and young adult – and that while those experiences made me grow up, they made me grow up rather too quickly and also grow a shell that’s perhaps a little too hard and rigid.  I can’t say I didn’t have a happy childhood because in the grander scheme of things I really did, but somewhere along the way between then and now I lost the child-like ability to love easily, trust unquestioningly, and live joyfully.

Towards the end of 2015 I wrote a post about how one particular friendship I have in my life has been teaching me how to open myself up and be vulnerable again directly in front of a person in real time. Since I came to full realization of this dynamic in that one friendship (which in real time was a little while before I wrote and published the post in question), I’ve tentatively explored inklings of that same dynamic in my other best friendships. Being somebody who proudly proclaims that she has a small handful of best friends, as opposed to many acquaintances and only a few good friends, I felt that the only way I could really make these relationships live up to that status was to figure out how I could truly open up to be myself and truly give the best of me to the people I love best.

One of the things I’ve learned since then is that being completely open and honest with my best friends isn’t just about being able to talk (and sometimes cry) about the Tough Stuff. It’s also about melting in warmth of their camaraderie and learning to laugh again, and by doing so finally experience some of the joy I missed out on when I grew up too fast for my own good.

I’d be remiss talking about best friends without mentioning Gacia, my partner in crime for eating sushi, folding laundry, and outlet shopping (and yes, sometimes we manage to do all three on the same day). We’ve gone through a lot together but no matter how tough things have gotten we’ve always been able to laugh together at the end of a long day. She’s the magician behind this moment:

 

Then there was that one time in Ottawa when Elizabeth, Sam, and I spent the better part of an evening trying to balance a bag of gourds on Elizabeth’s dining room table in between asking Google what the difference between gourds and squashes were, if you can eat gourds, and why you can’t eat gourds.

 

There’s also any time that Louis lets me play my music when I’m riding shotgun –and doesn’t make me stop when I rock out on air instruments and headbang along to the very best of 80s cheese…even on a two-hour roadtrip up North in the middle of winter, during which I serenaded a Timbit. And let’s not forget any time we watch old episodes of Mythbusters over some quality take-out and still manage to discover something new about the beloved show that brought us together and cemented our friendship. Yes, we still laugh out loud when Adam Savage asks if he’s missing an eyebrow and yes, we still groan-chuckle over all the jokes and puns in the blueprint voiceovers.

There’s another friend who brings out my inner child through various means – most recently through a fantastic bottle of blended red but mainly by somehow getting me to open up about past failed relationships through the scope of frank, wry humor.  He is also rather adept at capturing my silly side when food is involved.

 

Marianne and I will fangirl over our favourite movie and comic book villains in between stories of “do you remember when –” with Mario and Amanda at our favourite pub downtown. And then the jokes will carry over onto Facebook, where we share and tag each other in videos, photos, and gifs that remind us of one another.

My closest friend from Job1 has also really brought a lot of laugher into my life.  Her documentation of her kitten in a onesie is a youthful foil to my constant jokes about my cat’s obesity issue, but she’s also got a heart of gold that has embraced a lot of my pain and treated it with frank wisdom and loving humour.  There were some days in 2015 when the only thing that could make me smile was something she said, and when I learned how to laugh again her jokes were among the first that I tried it out on.

And even though I don’t get to see this friend very often, he’s one of my favourite people living inside my phone because he makes me literally laugh out loud a lot more than I think he actually realizes. Sometimes it’s because we troll each other half to death in good fun, and sometimes it’s because he says things that I’m pretty sure he means quite seriously but end up coming off as hilarious. And sometimes it’s because he’s one of those friends who gets me and supports me rather fiercely, regardless of how ridiculous I can be around him – case in point:

 

These are the people I love the best in the world outside of my blood relations, and these are the people who teach me a little more about myself every day. My best jokes and my best laughs are credited to them and the joy their friendships bring to my life, and the best parts of me reflect what I love so much in each of them.  When I became an adult I did forget how to feel child-like exuberance in life’s little joys, but I am blessed with friends who can teach me how to feel them once more.