Good morning, America.
I wish I could tell you guys how many entries I've started, since I put up this website, that I never finished because they lacked one of two things: 1) an intriguing beginning, or 2) a grand ending. I'm not going to bother with either of those tonight. Starting time: 1:42 AM. November 9, 2016. Trump just won the presidency. And I'm awake, with a stable internet connection, a large mug of tea, and snacks. Get comfortable. This one should be a treat.
Before I left Alberta one month and three days ago, I visited Nanaimo at the end of March. I had come here seeking tranquil waters, blooming green, and a quieter pace of life - never to live, but to experience just for a couple of days. What most people don't know about that trip is that I came here in the spring for deeply personal reasons. It wasn't just because I had Skyped my longtime friend Don in Vancouver the day before, and my boredom, coupled with his sarcastic offering to take me for dinner with his girlfriend Rebecca, led to me buying a ticket for the following evening. I mean, that part is true. I've told that story to the few people who have asked. But only three people were ever informed of the real reason why I left at that time, so suddenly, and the confidence by which I told two of them was bound by patient-counsellor confidentiality. I will not reveal the reason I left here on my blog right now, but I will say that it was triggered by uncovering something from my past which felt, at the time, to be too much for me to handle. When I came out here, I didn't know a soul. It was my first time on the Island and I knew next to nothing about this region of my country. But as soon as I set foot on the tarmac at Nanaimo-Cassidy Airport and smelled the sea - the scent of kelp/fish/freshwater/humid air that felt like unexpected warmth and mugginess, transporting me back to my short time in Croatia the autumn before when I met the parents of my former love - I felt my blood pressure drop. The airport reminded me of the Kitchener airport I came in and out of several times in 2010 and '11, exchanging happy hugs and tearful goodbyes with my best friend, and other lovers. Nanaimo felt smaller, cozier. I watched as young families welcomed dads and daughters home, the twenty or so people near the luggage belt waiting for loved ones from Calgary all overwhelmingly white, but with friendly smiles, even at midnight after a regular Monday, early spring. As an outsider, I didn't feel necessarily welcome but I did feel safe, and instantly, alarmingly calm. I remember the night was clear and it was so pitch dark outside I couldn't see a thing. The millions of coniferous trees that cover the hills here for miles, each one that I now love, remained quietly slipped away as I rode up the BC Highway 19 in a taxi. My driver made it clear to me within my first two minutes in his car that he was anti-Trudeau, which was an immediate warning to me to brace myself for radical conservative racism-- I mean, a Stephen Harper fan. As someone from Calgary, I'm quick (these days) to point out how anti-oilsands I am, economically. How pro-Trudeau I am, ideologically. I knew so little about British Columbia before my first visit here beyond the fact that "it's really liberal there." And here I was, at almost one in the morning, driving down a highway in a locked taxicab with a man who might be... a conservative.
I don't remember the gentleman's name but he did eventually give me his business card in case I need another ride. He also waited outside the front door of the hostel until someone opened the door - I was a super late check-in and had to call the front desk for someone to let me in - and bid me good-night not until I was safely inside with all my bags, saying he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he left a young lady like me alone downtown at night. As feminist as I am, I do appreciate chivalry. And now that I live in that exact same hostel, I get it. I'm very grateful for this man, and a little irked at myself seven months ago for doubting him based on his political views. When I got into the hostel, another gentleman showed me inside and told me I could settle my room bill in the morning, since it was late. He showed me to a four-bed dorm at the back end of the second floor, which was empty for the first night of my stay. At that time, I hadn't had much experience in hostels. I'd stayed in hostels before this one twice - the first time in Canmore, late 2013, when Devin and I were looking for a place to live, and then in Banff a few months later, when I was working there and I didn't have a way home from work one night. I wasn't used to communal sleeping spaces, having other people around with the potential to go through my things. Less than a month before this trip, I had gone east to Toronto, Ottawa, and Quebec City, and I stayed in hotels for the duration of that whole trip. I ate takeout and staged my Instagram posts, and when I wasn't overspending on overrated tourist attractions, I hid from the Ontario cold in my room, either on the phone with the guy I was seeing at the time or ... yeah. That was it. I slept soundly that night, and woke early. When I came down the stairs to settle my bill, I was met with the friendly conversation of the hostel's owner, Zul, and his laundry list of recommendations for things for me to do while in Nanaimo. It wasn't until then when I realized I didn't plan this trip at all. I never thought to do anything touristy here - I needed space. But I did end up having a really good time, and seeing more than I expected. Zul and his partner Pearlita took me around town the next day, up north to the beaches at Qualicum and then back into town for local beer tasting at White Sails, and sushi for dinner. It was an offer I was apprehensive to accept. I wasn't used to people being friendly and genuinely caring about my enjoyment, but beyond that, I think I was four when I first heard the song on Barney called "Never Talk To Strangers." For whatever reason(s) I had, I decided to challenge that apprehension and go anyway. I figured that if anything awful and newsline-worthy did happen to me, at least I tried - to open my heart up, trust other people, go to new places, and experience something different. I don't regret it. Z and P were wonderful hosts, and I know I can depend on them to watch out for me while I'm out here, however long that will be.
It was the morning I was checking out of the hostel when Zul gave me the just-broken news, that Jian Ghomeshi, former host of CBC's Q, was acquitted of all charges after numerous women came forward with their sexual assault allegations, and their testimonies. I then found out that the judge proceeded to berate the women for providing testimonies that were inconsistent, without any consideration for the fact that trauma creates memory loss, and moreover, things are said and done out of the bounds of consent when the person being assaulted fears for their life. Zul drove me to the ferry terminal where I boarded a giant boat en route to Vancouver, and I listened painstakingly to the radio reports in his car. When I got on the boat, my heart had sank. I loved twitter and I hated twitter (I was still using twitter fulltime-ish then). I wanted to be in Toronto protesting this sick son of a bitch and his undeserved freedom and I wanted all those women to be on this boat with me, so I could hug them, and tell them I believed them and I was so sorry for what our justice system was reducing them to. I changed my Facebook and Twitter profile pictures, probably my instagram too, to black script on a white background that read #IBelieveYou. What I distinctly remember was that weight feeling like it was my own. I didn't know those women, I didn't need to. Some of them never even released their own names. But the court ruled against all women that day. Women like myself, who have experienced sexual assault but moreover the experience of being silenced, because that seems to be universal among most women - all of us, if we're honest about how sexist the world really is. I tried to take my mind off it in Vancouver by trying to get excited about my upgraded suite at the Westin Grand, eating the $14 chocolates in the room (against the advice of Don, I should have listened but nope, I was hungry), and not talking about the news or reading headlines about it on my phone. The weight lifted slowly. Painfully. But I'll never forget what that day meant for us Canadian women. It was the first time a tragedy in the news hit me like it was my own. I'd never felt so connected, viscerally, to the pain of strangers, not even during the 2013 floods that forced people out of my own hometown out of their homes, and some lost everything. That day, I carried the weight of these women more than my own neighbours, and for better or for worse, I was never going to see the outside world the same way, ever again.
The months that followed brought a whirlwind of new adventures for me and a lot of hardship for many others. In Calgary and Alberta on the whole, layoffs continued by the thousands. The suicide rate for the province was up 30%, domestic violence calls up similarly. Less than a week before I left for Europe in May, fires raged in Northern Alberta from our warm, dry spring, and a quite literal forest fire from hell devastated the parkland for days and forced an evacuation of the entire city of Fort McMurray. The remaining o&g work camps in the area were shut down. Thousands of people - Albertan people, my neighbours - were displaced, hungry, traumatized, afraid. When I went abroad for ten weeks on my solo trip, I found a lot of solace and tranquility for myself in a multitude of different places. I was luckily safe and sound during all of my travels - tired most of the time, frustrated often - but always safe. Yet I couldn't escape the headlines. For awhile this summer, every day brought a new batch of bad news. Just from what I can remember: the Attawapiskat suicide crisis, the shooting in Orlando, the train crash in Bari, the suicide bombers in the Turkey airport, the gunman in Tel Aviv who shot down people in Serona Market (where I visited just a week earlier during my writing retreat there), the Brexit referendum, the 300+ people killed during Eid in Baghdad, the Bastille Day shooting in Nice, the shooting in Japan while I was there... I really wish I was exaggerating this list. With the internet as accessible as it is, I had real-time reporting of world news in my pocket at all times, as well as whatever was happening back home in Canada. It was disheartening... and that word is so insufficient it's criminal. Much to the dismay of my family, both in Canada and in the Philippines, I would embark on my first long-term solo trip and all these things would happen. I made sure none of my plans changed as a result of these, with the exception of Brexit, which caused me to later reconsider applying for my working holiday to the UK. I will admit now, for the first time, that reading these news stories in new countries, knowing no one that I could discuss these things with and being bombarded with updates constantly was a very heavy weight I didn't know how to carry. I wasn't warned about social media/nonstop international connectivity to be the invasive beasts that they are while traveling, particularly while traveling alone. No one prepares you for the weight of either of these because they're perceived to be good things. With social media I had something of an obligation to tell my friends and family where I was and that I was safe. The internet makes traveling hundreds of times easier than it was before its time. Yet while I was abroad, I began to question, very critically, the repercussions of moving out and about as a single person, especially a sensitive artist-type in the body of a woman of colour in our digitally-powered world. There were many times when I wished I could turn everything off. Social media, the internet, the entire workings of our world, and I longed for the simplicity of times before mine. I wanderlusted not for new places but for older ages, all the while knowing that if I had been alive in the 70s, this opportunity to travel abroad and alone - already an unprecedented privilege for me in 2016 - would be outright impossible for me then. So I suppose you have to take what you will in this 24/7 world we live in now. I struggle with that still. I realize the value of staying connected but it just doesn't jive well in the business of new beginnings, and it does shit for mindfulness. There are fewer and fewer places in the developed world where you can really "get away from it all", and for those that do exist, many of us aren't willing to pay the price of isolation itself. That illusion of peace we want so badly requires giving up the exact same things we can't live without.
Even someone as bloody sensitive as myself is not immune to being desensitized to violence, corruption, hate speech, and false rhetoric by the media. So maybe that's why, on the night - breaking morning - of Donald fucking Trump's presidential win, I feel nothing. I mean, I'm sad for the American people. Truly sad. But unlike those select few who alluded to the Fort McMurray fires this year as "karmic" (no word of a lie, there is a special place in hell for you people), I have to shrug my shoulders and say, you voted. You, America, did this to yourselves. You wanted change. You didn't want a third democratic presidency, and Senator Clinton wasn't transparent, strong, or credible enough for you. I get it. I get it. I don't agree, but I do seriously get it. I didn't take the popular side of most of my friends cheering on Bernie Sanders but I'll admit now he would have been a stronger candidate. But US politics aside, I look at what the rest of this year's news headlines have looked like. The videos I watched, the articles I poured over while on high-speed trains in Amsterdam and Japan, supposed to be enjoying my vacation and my freedom but instead transported to Orlando and Istanbul. I think of how much other people have been through and I CAN'T FUCKING IMAGINE that pain. If you were the parent, spouse, child, or even acquaintance of any of the hundreds of people who died across the world this year, I am so, so sorry. Sorry beyond words. Not just for your loss but for the fact that your loved one's death is now a bullet point in history, if that. The headlines probably don't remember your child or parent or partner's name. Your suffering is erased in the pursuit of the next headline and your person, whoever they are to you, is creating an empty space in this world where their breathing body should be and that fact is not breaking nearly enough hearts for what that means to you. The loss of your loved one has become a statistic. I don't follow politics to a T. I watch a lot of stuff that makes me cry, usually good tears - I spent one whole afternoon while I was in Toronto watching the Democratic National Convention and bawling my eyes out as I watched every speech. However, I do read news stories and I do often click on the "related" category. When people die, I google them. I try to find out what they were like, I try to find their social media profiles, and I watch victim impact statements from parents who have lost their kids and the like. Or I don't. I see headlines often that I make a note not to click on, to avoid reading about. I didn't watch all the Trump videos, or critique any of the debates. I do and I don't do these things because I don't want to spend my life buried in a screen. It's my way of reminding myself of how important it is to feel. I want to be present: seeing and feeling and hearing and smelling and tasting all the places I've been, and listening to and sharing with and remembering all the people I've seen. Without pictures. I try to take mental pictures. I hike in the forest and take slow walks through foreign town squares, all the while trying not to touch my phone, because some things look better in the mind's eye than the camera lens. This world wants so badly so numb us. To stop us from feeling and punishing us when we do, not just artists, not just women, but everyone who's part of this 24/7 connected world that we built and we love so dearly. I do and I don't do these things because I don't want to forget the value of a life, and what it means when it's taken away. I don't want to forget that the news sensationalizes the smallest things and that the media itself can build an entire presidential campaign on the undercurrent of post-recession, class tension. We have to think for ourselves. Use our brains. Remember what is right in our hearts and minds and look out for one another. Our neighbours, our friends, and strangers that make us feel something. And until we can all do that, we aren't allowed to be surprised when the chaos we see matches the chaos we expect. If we let what we see on the news decide for us what people are like, whether we're talking about Muslims, Americans, refugees, women, the LGBTQ community, Trump supporters, Clinton supporters, and the list goes on, we are failing to take ownership of our own mentalities. That is the embarrassment. That is the crime. That is the loss, of intellect, of intuition, of clarity, and of trust that's made living in this world no matter who and where you are, a far too painful task on some days. That is, unless you're a straight white man or disillusioned and privileged white woman who's never felt a shred of what I did the day Jian Ghomeshi got acquitted. It's those people who I challenge with this the most, as an ex-catholic atheist, not to love everyone unconditionally but to ACCEPT THEM as so. To respect other people like you expect them to do to you. This is supposed to be a universal thing. A concept that's both non-religious and of all religions. Again, I get it, it's not the 70s. But imagine what we could all accomplish if we respected everyone we met, unconditionally. Just. Imagine.
Maybe it isn't nothing that I feel about these election results. It's that I feel so much for so many other people that there isn't much left to feel for America, or for me. What I am able to feel is grateful. Please don't take that as a positive spin or a final milking of my Canadian privilege, because it isn't. I'm aware of how dangerous the world is today and also how dangerous it isn't. I'm aware of how hateful the world rhetoric can be, in many languages and countries, and also how kind strangers are, in seemingly-utopian pockets like Vancouver Island and in small towns across the world, where people couldn't even speak the same language as me, but I was treated with utmost respect and care. Everyone deserves that. You shouldn't have to buy it, you shouldn't have to prove yourself worthy of it. My ex-boyfriend was caught saying to one of his friends last year that my volunteer efforts were stupid and that "she can't save the world." And I fucking know I can't. I'm not trying to. Even Hillary Clinton wasn't trying to, she was just REALLY good at her job. So if even she can't save the world - or the 2016 presidency - maybe all of us should start smaller. Let's save ourselves. From the modern-day shackles of social media, brainwashing connectivity, and toxic, hateful headlines. Please, let's be mindful. Feel more. Think more. Question everything, always. We built this monster of a world one-by-one and so our machines all have the hearts of people behind them. Think about those people. Think about all the people they care about. We are all so connected and the same, inherently, should we dare to feel it. We can build a happier, kinder world just like how we built our digital one. But no one, not even the Donald, can change the world overnight. We have to change ourselves first.