twenty-seven.

Woah. I made it through my twenty-sixth year. It wasn't pretty. It held some of my darkest and most painful days. Thinking back to my last birthday, I had just gotten out of a pretty shitty relationship, I was staying on my friend Lauren's couch for what would be two and a half months, and generally feeling like a loser, completely unsure of where to start. Last year I wanted to burry my head and let the day quietly pass me by.

Last year I started off as a pile of rubble, this year I celebrate with a fire in my belly and an ocean crashing through my heart. Here are some of the milestones, highs and lows, that left a mark: 

Last spring I started therapy, I found a bright, quirky apartment across from the park with a sunny roommate, and in May, I went to Redding for a creativity conference with my longtime friend and mentor, Daphne. I had been having trouble with my figurative and literal voice; didn't know how to write songs anymore, literally couldn't open my guitar case without having a panic attack, and my throat was tight and twisted, like a constant grip of fear was making it impossible for me to sing properly. I listened to emboldened speakers and prophets speak about the role and responsibility of The Artist. I was blessed and built up. I was encouraged and inspired by talented writers, directors, dancers, musicians; my people. Driving away, I physically felt shackles fall off my throat. It was trippy, it was significant. I've embraced it as no small miracle. 

In August I was scooped up by my aunt and uncle Lisa and Mike in Nova Scotia. They make me incredible food and we had cookies at midnight and drank scotch on the porch and they carted me to five different beaches. I realized that every time I visit them, the narrative is always the same, "I'm tired, I'm spent, I've been burning at both ends, I have nothing left in the tank." I started troubleshooting: how does this keep happening, and to what benefit? How could I prevent it? I started making a plan beside the Atlantic with a matching flower crown to my cousin Annika while little Arlo jumped from sand dune to sand dune. 

September brought with it a new determination and discipline for songwriting and poetry. I had a writing schedule, a weekly word count goal, and an idea for my first novel that started writing itself. I went to California (again!) with my friend Tripp. It's always good for the heart to go to California; it has the same healing powers as my native Pacific North West but with more glamourous palm trees and its tinted, sun-kissed locals. We celebrated love at the most beautiful (and detailed!) wedding I've ever been to. We went to a sleepy surf town and tried our hand at body boarding (not entering the Olympics for that one any time soon). We made his parents come with us to morning yoga at the beach. 

On October 6th, the world changed. There are certain life events that become a line in the sand of everything that happened before the event and everything that comes after, and this was one of them. I experienced betrayal by another human, a stranger, and it has challenged and changed me forever. My army of people strapped on their boots and answered the call to action; people wrote and called. They imposed themselves gently but urgently on me. They came to my house and sat with me. They were understanding when I had to bail last minute on plans. They fed me and held me. They let me crash date nights and tag along to movies. They covered my shifts at work. They checked in, and then checked in again. I was buoyed by their rage and carried by their kindness. The following few months were brutal and blurry, but somehow healing happened, even though the wound is still stinging and open. 

My trip home for Christmas was overwhelmingly beautiful. My whole extended family on my dad's side were together for the first time in years. I held my best friend's baby for the first time. My dad hosted a beer tour for my cousins, I got to see my friend Ari perform, I was scooped up by old friends for tea, I drank beautiful wine presented by my wine-genius (and general genius) uncle, Tim, I slept in, I went for lunch with my grandmother, I walked by the inlet, I let the gentle tide of BC lap over me like a blanket.  There was so much healing in those ten days; I felt like I could exhale for the first time in months. 

There was a relief to say goodbye to 2016; something about the date removing me from the events of the fall that brought more distance and breathing room. Many poo-poo the idea of resolutions, but I'm the queen of taking time to reflect (rather, I'm not sure where the reflection stops and fixating begins, but this head is always on). I have some lofty creative plans for this year, I am actively working on adjusting my work schedule (and even work location) to accommodate more space and time for art, and the ever present goal to maybe learn how to blow-dry my hair properly. Someday, I tell ya. Stuff is on the move. 

I played my first solo set in two years in February. I had a meltdown when I got home, which my friend Rob was kind enough to help put me back together (mostly because he was in proximity. Thanks Rob). It's a weird feeling, this thing I love to do, this thing that sometimes I feel good at and sometimes feel I have no business participating in. 

Then I moved with probably the quickest turn-around of life; found out I had to leave my quirky apartment on Friday, saw a listing on Sunday night, looked at it on Monday, got the keys on Tuesday. My friend Sam contrabanded a moving van and helped me carry all of my belongings out of a three story walk up with four hours notice. After work. Before helping another friend move. Natasha showed up late but helped too I guess (okay can't even end the sentence without making it abundantly clear that's a joke). I now have this beautiful home that I think will greatly serve my closeted introversion and give me space to brood and write. 

I haven't had a birthday party since my 14th, when my school friends came over and told me my house was "no fun," they messed up the basement, and ended the night playing ding-dong-ditch in my neighbourhood. Even since moving to Toronto and finding "my people" I get mega-people-pleasing-social-anxiety and get worried about putting all of my favourite humans in one room. But this year it felt necessary to celebrate and make everyone adult and get to know each other. If I love them, everyone would love them. So that's what we did. Drank a lot of wine and ate a lot (a LOT) of cheese, warmed my new home, ate the best sugar donuts in the world, stayed up like so late. It was easy and cozy and just what I wanted. 

I feel an ache in my heart, which I think is natural after such a blow, but I feel triumphant too. I am humbled by my tribe and how they have loved me. I feel proud of my body, that as it has shrieked and bellowed, it has communicated clearly what my Self has needed. Somewhat inconveniently, but effectively. I am incredibly thankful for the art that has risen to meet me, helping me to make sense of a season that I didn't ask for. Over and over it is re-affirmed that there is beauty to account for when we stop and look for it. 

Thank you, as always, for journeying with me, for your sweet encouragements and gentle nudging. 

Love, Jess. 

Posted on March 14, 2017 .

inventory.

[Content Warning: Sexual Assault]

Here is an inventory of what surviving sexual assault is like:

BODY SCAN
Hair:
Fell/ is falling out in droves. I sweep my room and think, anyone want to weave a scarf?
Eyes: crusty when I wake. Grey and blue half moons overnight and are so far here to stay. Blurry with tears often. 
Skin: My thirteen year-old self is here for a visit, acne everywhere, as is the embarrassment for the red blotches splattering my face and back. Rashes and hives on particularly difficult days. Over Christmas I thought I was bitten by an army of spiders from the welts that pelted my legs, hands, elbows. Turns out my parents' condo does NOT have an infestation.
Back: Muscles made of steel. Like bullets. Like the places he touched have turned to stone, crushing down hard on my bones. My back that feels like it betrayed me, its grumpy tissue what got me here in the first place.
Chest: In knots, the kind that burn your hands when you try to unravel them. Like a child's tug of war rope that gives grip to pull the enemy closer. Like the tangled necklace I got for Christmas that keeps scratching my neck. 

SLEEP
Troubled, and interrupted by the following: dreams about running away, dreams of fleeing, dreams of men in my life being too close, too intimate, too near. Dreams where I am just screaming. Dreams that I have a child I cannot care for. Dreams where I am stuck in a building and can't get out. Here is the worst: waking and being back in that room. There are nights where the darkness crushes me. There are nights where I want to be held. There are nights when sleep never arrives. There are mornings that I wake and have to remember the reality to which I have awoken. 

QUESTIONS/COMMENTS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN HELPFUL (ALTERNATIVE TITLE: QUESTIONS / COMMENTS THAT ARE FUCKING INSULTING). 
"So are you still upset about that?" "Do you think you're catastrophizing your assault?" "At least he didn't rape you." "What did he do to you? Tell me all the details." "Do you think you're overreacting?" 

PLACES/ TIMES I THINK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED
When the house is quiet. Putting on underwear. Feeling my muscles tense. Getting into an Uber (where is he working?). Getting on the Subway (which neighbourhood does he live in?). Sitting at dinner and not wanting to be a buzz kill. Second guessing if every person I make eye contact with is looking at me with pity. Any uninvited touch. Any invited touch. Any place that feels safe; it reminds me of a place that was unsafe. Noticing men looking at my chest. Any news on Donald Trump. When I consider going on a date. Overhearing a co-worker call another girl a whore. Any phone call from an unknown number. Walking on College Street. 

WHAT BRINGS COMFORT
Smashing right through the awkward "should I say something or should I not say something," putting your arms around me, and saying, "I know something terrible happened, and here I am in the trenches with you." Tight, tight hugs, 10 seconds plus, please. Tags on any and all puppy videos on Instagram. Snail mail. Bottles of WINE in the mail (!!!!! Thanks, Harloffs!). Invites to coffee, morning walks, concerts, movies, mundane errands (let's do them together). Diligent, daily texts from my mum, not asking any questions, just, "good morning, Lambie." Snapchats of my sister's cat in a cone of shame. The bushel of dried lavender my roommate brought me. People imposing and just coming over. And then imposing again a week later. Spending a whole visit talking about it. Spending a whole visit not talking about it. Emails (messages, texts, tweets, emails, telepathic transferring) of goodness and love. A new house plant with pretty leaves. Holding friends' babies. Witnessing other people loving each other well. Going to the gym and killing it, feeling stronger every day, embracing the pink walls and pink kettle bells and hilarious catch phrases like "time flies when you're building guns." Forgiveness and understanding when I "just can't," and there's a lot more "just can'ts" lately. Group texts with voice memos and outfit advice and dating disaster stories and spontaneous operatic songs and hip hop videos of Joe's son and a growing collection of alpaca Christmas ornaments. Any "Today is a hard day" answered with, "I am here with you."

And my art, which has risen to meet me and has kept me afloat, and remind me I am still sprouting, I still have something to give, and assures me that I am going to make it. 

Posted on January 13, 2017 and filed under The Daily: SPILL.

what happens next?

[Content Warning for Sexual Assault]

       Who we are and what has happened to us shapes the way we see the world, and this is a lens I never expected to have to stare through. I feel like my inner conductor has switched to a completely different station. The things I worry about have changed. My first morning thoughts, the last ones before bed, what wakes me up in the middle of the night. Who I notice walking on the street - the group of teenagers waiting beside me for the subway, laughing at something on someone's cell phone: I fiercely want them to know their worth and beauty. A little girl in a stroller pointing out a passing dog to her dad: I pray as I pass them that her innocence and wonder will stay intact. Trigger words when girlfriends are speaking about their relationships: I have little patience for men who fail to see their radiance. My receptors are all on high alert at all times. I am feeling, deeply, all things.

       I get tired easily. Every day I am tired. What has become the most exhausting is the autopilot greeting, "hihowareyou?" We get asked this all the time: my local barista and shopkeeper, the cashier at the grocery store. With each innocent ask I take inventory of every single organ: my heart is on fire. There are stones in my gut. There is Every Injustice Ever Done To Women in the tension in my shoulders. There is a tornado of worries and blank stares in my brain. Are we prepared for all of the answers when we ask this question?

       I was supposed to go to a baby shower of an old and dear camp friend the week after the assault. I couldn't figure out how to be in a room with people who I have known for years but I'm not in close, frequent contact with. I couldn't figure out what the scripted update was supposed to be. I didn't want to talk about it, it would be inappropriate to talk about it, how could I not talk about it? How do you possibly share, "A great injustice has been done to me"? How do you not? 

       I guess this is what grief feels like. Something has been lost and something has changed, and I will not be the same. How do I maneuver through this with the outside world? 

       I used to identify as being made of water, being a west coast girl and all; the sea is what has taught me and drawn me, calmed me, it so immediately brings perspective and peace. There has been a definite elemental shift though; I am now a girl made of fire. My bones are the kindling and my heart is the hearth. I have become more attuned with the suffering of the world; there is so much work to be done. The inferno is not okay with these very real, very serious events happening around us: a sex offender is president-elect of the United States. The sacred ground of Standing Rock is being bastardized by greed. I am feeling them in a new way than I ever have, and I do not want to look away.

        What I have realized is that my story of injustice isn't MY story. There is Injustice and there is Suffering, and it belongs to all of you, and me, and them, and us.  The narrative needs to shift that each of us is in this singular, subjective journey. The earth and its inhabitants belong to all of us - this is for each of us to carry.

eden.

      It only took a second for the world to change. There was a flash, and the earth became hot and the room filled with lava. As my body was violated I went all the way to the beginning of time, right to the fall of Man. I saw the first expression of free choice take place. I watched as Adam took the apple and ate of it. I was there as Eve understood for the first time her Nakedness.  

       Do you know how the story goes? God called out to Adam, “Where are you?”

       Do you not think God knew where Adam was in the garden, He with his infinite knowledge and understanding?  Down where the path meets the river and the birds would take their morning shower, and the flowers would sing sweetly as they walked by? He knew exactly where Adam stood; He wasn’t trying to place Adam, he wanted Adam to place himself.

       I understand the story differently now. “The woman, she made me do it,” he explained. Here it was: The First Betrayal; The first Deferring Of Responsibility; The first Casting Of Shame.

       I watched as all of time passed and heaven slipped away from our humanity. I watched as women were silenced and put behind doors. I watched as women gave birth to the men who left home and named countries and cities after their fathers. I watched as the child brides left their dolls for their marriage beds. I watched as the prostitutes counted their coins at the end of their long nights as new morning light snuck through their window. I watched as women painted their signs of protest, lining city streets, calling out just to be heard. I watched myself with my colleagues as we wait tables in our black dresses, men telling us to smile, telling us to come closer, placing their hands on our waists, telling us our looks please them. We as women carry with us every injustice since the beginning of time. What has been done to one woman has been done to all of us.

       It all flashed before me with my body made of fire, his hands on my breasts, his hands down my stomach to my groin, his breath heavy on my cheek. Another betrayal. Another deferring of responsibility. Another casting of shame.

       “I think this should stay between us,” his words hovering above me like dark smog as I laid there, paralyzed by disbelief. Is it in some manual somewhere, “The Line Every Pervert Must Say”? Verbatim, I heard it with my own ears. The first betrayal to now, they have said the same thing to us. “Shut up and take it.” “Boys will be boys.” “This is just what men do.” My story is unique, and it is not unique. His hands on my body was a violation done to all of us. I am not the only one.

       This story belongs to every woman, and this story belongs to every man, but it is not every man’s sin.  Rather, it has been the men in my life that have buoyed my grief.

       Rob walked me through the park and took my hand, he let my soaked face and dripping nose wet the shoulder of his sweater. His quiet steadiness made it safe for me to unravel and succumb to the sadness on the first night.

       The next morning I kept my appointment with Ryan, and, his hands in my hair, I was overwhelmed with the stark contrast of his touch to the man touching me the day before, here with my friend who paints my hair gold and tells me stories of all the places he’s been and all the people who have made his day. And as he massaged my scalp, I didn’t flinch from the intimacy. It was Ryan’s gentle urging and encouragement that helped me rally the strength to file an official report.

         Iain, my stand-in dad when I’m 2000 miles away from my own, picked me up after I was finished at the police station and anchored my thoughts with prayer, his words a prophecy for a whole heart and a bold life; “You were victimized, but you do not have to live as a victim,” he reminded me.

       Two days later I got on a plane and was gathered by my parents, and I spent the weekend clinging to my father. I cried and he cried and he put his hands on either side of my face and the rage in his eyes flashed the same color as the fire in my belly. My lovely father who honors us with morning coffee runs when I visit and stoic gentleness at any other time was furious and bellowing, and his outrage was a gift to me.

       The men of my life have stepped up and demonstrated their loyalty to me over and over. They have taken on the responsibility to stand like mighty oaks in this heavy forest, their kind words like rustling leaves whirring and singing, making it easier to find some sleep. They have gathered my tears and cloaked me in honor. They are not like him. His sin is not their sin.

       Last night I had a dream that we were all back in Eden; the sun was tucking itself behind the mountain range and the wolves began to howl and the tide of the ocean began to come in and people gathered in their tribes around crackling fires. And Eve walked – no, she was floating – from circle to circle, calling us each by name. She kissed our foreheads and her laugh was like a song, and each man’s eyes filled with tears and they took her hands in theirs and one by one spoke the covenant: “I see you, I am with you, I am for you, I honor you.” Eve kissed their palms and anointed their brows as our daughters danced and ran through the field and down to the water. 

Posted on November 20, 2016 .

twenty-six.

My birthday this year was spent with closest friends on a quiet Friday night in, a monstrous cheese board, the fanciest of champagnes, a tower of cronuts (pictured), and celebrating the triumphs and challenges of twenty-five, and declaring bold and beautiful adventures for twenty-six, namely just these things:

less worry, more surrender
less battling, more tenderness
less anxiety, more trust
less bottling, more spilling
less second-guessing, more trying
less solitude, more partnership
less apologizing, more intention
less hurrying, more presence.

Over and over I am bewildered by the obnoxious support of my beautiful circle of friends, who, specifically in the last few months have rallied and surrounded me and fed me and housed me and wrapped me up in their love and goodness and cheered me on in the hazy uncertainty and sometimes achey heaviness I can sink into. They make my world beautiful and worthwhile with their beautiful hearts. 

personalized jewelry for valentine's day.

Gotta admit, though Valentine's Day can be a little over-cheesy and I am a firm believer in writing love notes on the regular rather than just on one day of the year, there is something sweet about walking around the city and seeing so many people on their way home with bouquets of flowers. 

My vote for non-cheesy and so-thoughtful gifts for someone you love? Lovely & simple personalized jewelry. Here are some of my faves:

Courtney Williams runs the Etsy Shop AdorablySimpleDesign and makes these sweet hammered metal rings with personalized initials on them. How cute for sisters or for your mom with a ring for each of her children! 

Beth Macri makes these awesome hidden message necklaces that look so polished and refined. You can choose from gold, silver and rose gold characters, and they look great mix & matched. 

A long time favourite of mine, COATT makes personalized morse code jewelry. They have various silk or chain necklaces to choose from, as well as bracelets or constellation (zodiac) patterns. These are so delicate and dainty and are a win for any special event if you ask me. 

[All photos are from each vendors websites].