A Place Where Two Roads Meet

Thirty minutes before we’re supposed to go out for Halloween, Julia, Sebastien, and I are digging through Julia’s basement to find some semblance of a costume. We’ve exhausted our best trio costume ideas in both French and English, including but not limited to quatre-vingt-dix, third wheeling, and the three levels of government (municipal, provincial, and federal).

I suddenly remember the wetsuit I keep in my car just in case I ever need to go swimming in glacial water, and Julia recalls the dehydrated garlic, dryer sheets, and socks drying upstairs. Sebastien abandons us to become the mayor from Powerpuff Girls, a noble decision that we do not hold against him. 

An hour later, wet and dry walk into a bar. It’s the type of place where they’re playing Drake all night long at a volume nearly impossible to hold a conversation. Not that many are going on; everyone’s eyes are kept on swivel, cycling from their friends to Instagram to a fresh sweep of the room with a hunger for someone to make a temporary home out of.

Adorned in a clothesline of dried goods and swimming goggles, we have an armour of social invisibility around us, allowing us to delve deep into whatever creative projects we like without being questioned by men. I’m especially thankful for that tonight, because I really didn’t foresee having to explain je suis mouillée to anyone.

We’ve come armed with pen and paper with the objective of recording observations about people we see. It’s fascinating what people reveal about themselves in social situations surrounded by strangers, and even more fascinating what we unconsciously decide to notice about them.

Julia and I never had the pleasure of meeting each other as strangers. Our mothers met in prenatal birthing classes at the Fort Erie YMCA, their due dates only a few weeks apart. We floated in our respective wombs while our mothers stretched together and talked about futures that they couldn’t have possibly imagined; ones that certainly didn’t involve their daughters doing performance art wearing garlic and goggles during a pandemic. 

Yet we grew together, our lives following radically different yet similar paths. As kids we met weekly in the same dance studio, and as teenagers in concert band and on the rowing team. While I gravitated towards the arts in university, Julia moved towards science and philosophy. We’ve both travelled around a lot since leaving home, seeking out old friends and the comfort of strangers, and have each spent the past three years in Francophone environments. We manage to see each other at least twice a year, quite an admirable feat for childhood friends not living in the same province or country.  

I read once that most people misunderstand how the butterfly effect works. It’s often misconstrued as a term that explores the idea of leverage in a complex system, one in which a number of small actions leads to one big action. A butterfly flaps its wings in Mexico and causes a typhoon in Thailand.

In actuality, the butterfly effect is the inability to pinpoint an exact moment that did or did not cause an effect in a complex system. It dwells in the impossibility of knowing something precise in a system where anything can be influenced by outside factors. Did the butterfly flapping its wings cause the typhoon directly, or was the ocean already upset because of climate change? 

It’s this casual causality that brings me to drive thirteen hours east to visit my childhood friend Julia in Le Bic, her adopted small town in Maritime Quebec. I’ve never driven more than an hour by myself, let alone had my own car.

Perhaps I go because after moving back to Anglophone Canada from France, I missed being able to lose your bearings in language, wanting the privilege of tuning out anything you don’t feel like listening to. It could be that I had developed the inability to stay in one place longer than a month, too accustomed to life on the road. Or maybe it was because being close to someone at a weekly cadence before you are even brought into this world dictates you will follow a similar but modified rhythm for the rest of your life, substituting weeks for months or years.

Julia’s brother happens to be visiting Le Bic at the same time as me. He calls me dramatic. He’s maybe not wrong. Julia was living somewhere cool, and not having seen each other in over a year, I wanted to visit her. It could be as simple as that.

But it could also be much more complex, because that makes for better writing material and stories in which you can intellectualize yourself to strangers who don’t yet know your character flaw as an egomaniacal exaggerator.

It’s not easy to pinpoint a single reason you feel compelled to do something. Doesn’t everyone try to make sense of their lives by painting broad strokes until something fits right with the narrative you want to tell about yourself? 

Overall, October is a gentle month. It rains most days, alternating between a casual drizzle and violent downpour that sometimes blows the front door right open, given we leave it unlocked. We still go outside everyday, hiking through tree cover along the mountainous coastline or running down empty country roads. Inside, we work on editing short horror films that we shoot on our second day together, eventually culminating in the establishment of a micro independent film festival (stay tuned for TRiFF 2022).

My planned one-week trip turns into four. I carve out a little life for myself in Julia’s corner of the world, complete with new friends, a poetry manuscript, regular workout routine, and fleeting romance with one of the strangers I took notes on during our art observation project. It’s a brief glimpse into a world that could be mine, but as the first snow of the year falls in early November, I make my way back towards Ontario.  

In The Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson writes that “sometimes, a journey makes itself necessary.” The cold begins to foreshadow winter; my early fall wardrobe can only sustain me so much longer. Perhaps I have overstayed my welcome in a place I can lay no claim to. Maybe I feel guilty for resting in a single spot for too long. Or more simply, it could just be that my biannual visit with Julia has run its course.

On Fiction

Someone pinned a note to Ernest Hemingway’s grave recently. Free of water stains, it read, “I started writing out of love and joy… I kept writing because of you. If you could create in the midst of misery, so can the rest of us.”

I write in my journal that I am not creating enough to call myself an artist. My journal is a garden for the half-truths I allow myself to flourish in.

I dropped a dime onto Hemingway’s small plot in Ketchum, Idaho, an inconspicuous spot sprinkled with pennies, wilted flowers, half-drunken bottles of whiskey, and a rain-torn copy of The Sun Also Rises. In my family, dimes are a sign of good luck.

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Ketchum, Idaho

Superstitions are ruled by neither fact nor fiction. Stepping on a crack and breaking someone’s back requires that you have a mother. Growing a long nose requires that you can distinguish your own lies from truth. Catching a bouquet at a wedding requires that you believe in fairness within monogamy.

In my journal of half-truths, I am trying to write less he-said-she-said, he-said-I-believed. I am trying to be less of a cliché, less of a girl who writes in cafes and becomes transfixed over writing in which she cannot distinguish fact from fiction. I have begun to say “transfixed” instead of “crying” because people love to read their own truths into situations when an emotional woman is involved.

Boise, Idaho

At the end of I Love Dick, Chris Kraus writes, “No woman is an island-ess. We fall in love in hope of anchoring ourselves to someone else, to keep from falling.”

Yesterday I called every sexual health clinic in downtown Toronto. I left three messages at three offices that went straight to an answering machine. None of them called me back.

There are extremists who believe that in a patriarchal society, all heterosexual sex is considered rape with woman as the victim. Power imbalances do not disappear once they have entered the realm of sex. I write in my journal that assault necessitates anxiety over any sexual encounters in the future. Most survivors of sexual assault are accused of lying.

I Love Dick is a collection of the many letters Kraus wrote to the man she fell in love with as she travelled across America and Guatemala. Kraus turned her sexual desire for Dick into a voyeuristic novel that garnered widespread acclaim and criticism. Hemingway is still considered one of the greatest life writers.

There are no appointments available at any clinic until the end of August. A woman learns how to accept in pieces. Kraus writes in I Love Dick how historically, female artists were not taken seriously because their work was considered too emotional and personal, therefore could not be speaking to the same level of universal truths that men explored in their creations. As a result, female artists took the personal and made it universal.

Stanley, Idaho

Some lines from my journal that may or may not be true: birth control pills were first tested on incarcerated Puerto Rican women. The birds started chirping at 5:04am. I try to talk myself into being gay at least twice a year. Kraus is not taken seriously by literary institutions because female desire is seen as juvenile. I’m afraid to directly write about assault because I don’t want to be labelled as a victim.

I tell my friends that I only write experimental fiction. I tell boys that I’m not disinterested in that I only write poetry. I have my journal with me at all times. Telling the truth does not necessarily make it a fact.

Kraus and Hemingway wrote with desires to fictionalize their lives. In doing so, they have created myths of their own personalities, legends to be constructed in cultural manifestos and cited in peer-reviewed papers. Both have been threatened to be sued for defamation. Not everyone likes how fact and fiction stem from the same place.

I had a dream a few nights ago where my mouth was full of teeth that I kept spitting on my kitchen floor. I am unsure how to interpret that.

hem note
Ketchum, Idaho