The first time I met her was at a bus stop in front of Lakeport high school at night. I was headed to my first high school dance. It was grade nine, and my christian high school didn’t have dances, for whatever biblical reasons, and I was nervous.
Jen was already too cool for school dances. She was leaving the dance–she had better and more interesting things to do and cooler people to hang out with. She was dressed in all black, the jeans tight on her skinny legs, her long red hair had a slight feather to it and the wings of her eyeliner were extended further than I had ever seen on anyone since the 80s.
Her tough exterior and aloof coolness were intimidating to this square and dorky church girl. The friend I was with introduced us, and I felt lame. I was definitely not as cool as this girl and there’s no way she’d want to be friends with lame preppy little me. She was rock and roll. She was Jen Hatcher.
The following year, I transferred schools, and started attending Lakeport myself. But badass Jen had already been kicked out of Lakeport or some shit, so our paths never really crossed again, until much much later. That brief meeting must have made some impression on the both of us, though, because years later we met up again, and there was no question that we knew each other.
I was in university at the time, and had landed my then dream job, working at Scizzions as the receptionist. Jen was working as a stylist at the same salon, and was a bit standoffish at first. I’m certain she had kept her distance because of my lame quotient, but running into me at a Sick Boys rock show upped my cool factor by about a million. So then we were friends.
We worked together almost every day for 5 years, along side our other co-workers, and I often describe that time as “working with my best friends everyday”. The pranks we pulled were outrageous and often ended in uncontrollable giggle fests while clients were left waiting for their hair cuts and colours. We took liberties with each other’s personal property that no coworkers should ever take but our senses of humour made it work. The laughs and our friendship extended far beyond the walls of the salon as we often spent our free time together too…smoking cigarettes, sharing secrets and spilling drinks for hours before passing out on each other’s couches.
I learned a lot about Jen in that time, and we became very very close friends–Another unique friendship with a special soul that I have been so fortunate to collect in my lifetime. So please, let me tell you all about her. My friend, Jen.
My friend Jen was born in the 70’s and grew up in the 80’s. She’s always loved (hair) metal, which is totally weird for someone our age. I liked metal for a spell in the 80’s, when I wanted to be like my babysitter. I listened to Motley Crue’s Theatre of Pain, maybe more than most 8 year olds, but Jen loved it all. Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, even Ratt. She’s been to more Cinderella concerts than is even conceivable for someone in their 30’s and if there was a world record for use of the kyuss in everyday life, she’d own it. Jen is a skid. A rockin’ 80’s skid.
But beyond her skiddy tastes in music, is a beautiful and loving sweet soul. She is the kindest, most gentle human you’ll ever get the chance to meet. She is friendly and cheerful, and has hoards of friends. She is bright and sunny and motivated and ambitious. She’s even sensitive, though she’s not likely to admit it. She is empathetic and loving and wonderful. She is the truest of the true, the bluest of the blue and the best god damned friend you could ever ask for.
Jen Hatcher has been there for me in some of the most difficult and trying times in my life. Always offering a shoulder to cry on, a hand to lend, or pages of words encouraging me to do something with my life. Urging me to follow my dreams. Pushing me to turn my life around when there was no one else that could do that for me. She was there cheering me on and chairing my fan club when I felt alone and scared and was ready to give up.
She’s tougher than tough, stronger than strong and has endured some extremely challenging times in her life–things that could literally crush anyone’s soul. And she has lived through it all with remarkable grace and poise and patience. The world would be a better place if we would all strive to be just a little more like her.
I could go on for days, and it still wouldn’t do her justice. I am so lucky to have such a incredible and amazing friendship with Rock and Roll Jen. I never saw it coming that cool autumn some 20 years ago as Meatloaf blared from the high school gym. But beyond the eyeliner and tight jeans was an extraordinary spirit so unique and special who has come to mean so much to me. Ultimately, I’m writing because I’m inspired by her and I’m grateful every single day to have her in my corner.
My friend Jen. Keep on rockin’, you skid.
Recently, I returned to work from a year’s maternity leave. This time I took the whole year to spend time with my little children, to enjoy them while they’re young. When I left my job last February, there were about 9 people working in the office. Upon my return, our office staff in Toronto had grown to about 30 people or so. The positions and offices are mostly filled with people handpicked by my boss, which made the notion of returning to work intimidating. The folks he selected are star players! These people are the stand outs in the crowds with which he has shared his working life. And here I was, some lady he’d been stuck with, re-emerging on the scene. And this lady questioned her relevance and her capacity to live up to the tasks and mandate set before her.
That first week, we’d been to the doctor and/or hospital multiple times, where Alice was eventually diagnosed with a particularly disgusting and nasty bout of impetigo on both hands, after having some weird mouth virus and four days of fever. Impetigo is gross and it looks really really painful. It’s super contagious to other children and basically you have to keep it covered so it doesn’t spread. Have you ever tried to bandage a baby’s hands? I learned from this ordeal that babies think band-aids are some tasty shit. Our solution? Socks on the hands. And we got some antibiotics, which are an adventure all themselves when trying to administer them orally to a 11 month old.
At around the same time, I became painfully aware of how sharp Alice’s little teeth had become via an awfully wounded nipple, that still hasn’t quite healed after nearly two months. I’m convinced it will never ever heal, but there is a little glimmer of hope inside me that thinks that maybe one day in the near future, I might be able to nurse her on the left side without recoiling in pain. Maybe.
So my first week back was a literal hell, between the boobie wound, impetigo, and some shaky days with my husband’s job security (though luckily our concerns were quickly elayed). The stress of a new childcare arrangement, the TTC commute, and all the on the job learning required to get back up to speed were so much that I was literally collapsing in tears at the end of every day. I’m stressed just writing about it!
If you’d really like to keep track, you could add in a dash of serious sleep deprivation for the last 6 months and a healthy dose of mummy guilt. You know, the kind of guilt the eats away at you for not “being there’ for your family who needs you so desperately. I’d failed at meal planning, and doing the grocery shopping to stock our fridge and pantry with the things we’d need to keep us going. I was behind on laundry, and every room in our apartment had seen much better days. With all the things I had failed to do, I had no time to make up for it. No time to run the errands, do the preparations necessary to make this transition slightly smoother for all everyone in our little family.
But then the second week came, and then the third, and the fourth week. And now I feel as though I am rocking along at a fairly respectable and steady pace. And the pieces? They’re all falling into place. I’m learning a lot, I’m quickly getting back up to speed, and I remembered finally that I LOVE WORKING! I love my job and the people I work with are all really really awesome. More awesome than I ever could’ve anticipated. I’m starting to hit my stride and I just love everyone and everything that I’m doing. Then the end of the day rolls around, and though I have to fight my way on to a streetcar, I’m excited. I’m excited to come home to the perfect little faces that shine so bright with smiles when they hear mummy come up the stairs. I’m excited to kiss my handsome husband, who has already started dinner, folded laundry and worked a full day, and is waiting to greet me with a smile just as bright.
This new year, I set my motto as I always do. I knew it was going to be a challenging year with lots of ups and downs and that I would need to stretch to make it all work. That I’d need to put it all out there on the line to be successful in 2015. And so I remind myself regularly that this year, I’m going “All In”. How could I not, my friends……I’ve been dealt the royal flush.
When I was a little kid, I was often curious about the white stone signage you’d see on the side of the Gardiner Expressway. I wondered who made those things? How did they do it? How did they access the side of the highway like that? And what was on the other side of that hill? Who were the people that lived there?
Flash forward, 30 some odd years, almost every morning, I walk down to King Street, and look over to the Gardiner, and see those white stone marquees peaking up at me from under the snow as I wait for the streetcar. It brings me so much joy, knowing those little white stones are there. I look down at the frustrated folks stuck in their cars commuting into downtown and feel gross satisfaction that I am where I am, overlooking that highway just above those pretty little rocks.
A few months ago I thought that it might be time to end my love affair with Toronto. Living in the city with two kids definitely has its challenges. And sometimes, those challenges are enough to make you throw up your hands and consider high tailing it out of here. There’s no space! There’s no time! It’s dirty, and it’s noisy and traffic is always a nightmare. I have no lawn, and my front yard is a receptacle for the neighbourhood garbage. My yard also acts as a toilet for some hard pressed folks.
People poop in my driveway, my friends. Poop.
Even at it’s grimiest, Toronto is expensive and everything is always busy. The transit overcrowding is unbearable. Furthermore, owning property is an unattainable pipe dream, with the most recent studies saying that the average (AVERAGE!) price of a detached home in Toronto is ONE MILLION DOLLARS.
It’s easy to wonder: “WHY WOULD ANYONE LIVE HERE????? I certainly started to wonder, and then I started to consider the alternative. I visited other places, I did some research, I talked to friends who live that alternative and I thought maybe we could make it work somewhere else. I had started to feel like living in Toronto wasn’t working anymore and that me, and my family, just didn’t fit in.
After all that I had my feelings resolved and the logistics worked out. I had started to plan our departure. Then I stepped outside and I heard a dinging streetcar. A pigeon shat on my hand as I pushed the double stroller down Queen street. I smiled at my fortune and a lady asked me for money. The same lady asks me a second time when I pass her again later. And now I see the people, the traffic, the aging retro storefront signs. I see a new Kizmet piece, or a KPS tag or manage to spot a new Lovebot. I smile and wave at my neighbours, I talk to the independent shop-keeps and I slink by the abandoned mattresses that abound on the streets of Parkdale. And though I’m a teensy bit sad about the sacrifices Marigold and Alice will have to make by growing up in the city, I’m excited for the life and electricity and culture they will experience by growing up here. And in it all I realize I can’t leave. Not now, and maybe not ever.
Nine years, this March , I’ve been here in this city and I still have no idea who looks after those little rock signs. I still get excited to see those white stone marquees lining the Gardiner Expressway, just as I did when I was a kid, Only now, when I look up, I know my home is there, just beyond the stones….Where I still belong.
Happy Anniversary, Toronto.
I’ve been trying to remember how old I was when I got my first keyboard for Christmas. Between 7-9 I guess. It was the 21 key Casio PT100. And it was awesome. I also got 4 how-to books that taught you how to play. The music in the books had the notes on the staff and there were stickers so you could mark the keys on your keyboard. And that, my friends, is how I learned to play the piano. I commited to memory the notes of the treble clef, and eventually the stickers all rubbed off the keys and it all stuck in my brain. I also had this pretty great ability to figure out how to play a song just by listening, so when I had worn my way through those four beginner books, I just sortof figured out the songs I wanted to play. I was only about 9 after all, so my selections weren’t really that complicated, but I could really nail Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and mash out all the favourite hymns I knew from church.
Before the PT100, there was the old decrepit organ in the basement. You had to hit the switch a few times to get it to turn on, sometimes augmenting the switch flip with a hard shake of the whole instrument. It took a few minutes for it warm up, and it always had a loud and distinct hum that you would have to ignore if you wanted to be in the same room for any length of time. I mostly managed to tune it out while playing. I loved to goof around on it, with it’s push button chords and two dusty keyboards. I think my sisters may have had to practise on it for their piano lessons, and needless to say, they gave up, as would most respectable humans because the sound was actually atrocious.
When I was around 11, the church I attended got new hymn books, and were “selling” the old ones for a $4 donation, and unfortunately the Sunday this was all going down, I was sick with the chickenpox, so I missed out on the hymn book sale. Devastated, I was, since I wanted to at least see if I was playing the right notes to the hymns, and learn others that I just couldn’t figure out on my own. A lady at my church, Joanne, knew that I really wanted one, so that Sunday, she dropped it by. I get all misty-eyed just thinking about it. To her, it was likely a very small gesture, but it was significantly influential to me.
I played the shit out of “Great Hymns of Faith”, making up the chords based on the way things sounded in church. I didn’t know how to read the bass clef–my instructional books failed to cover that. I also refused to play anything with more than 2 flats or 3 sharps, so instead I would transpose the music in my head. How I learned about key signatures is beyond me–I just kinda knew.
I would alternate playing through that hymn book on the organ and on my little PT100, pretending to be Mrs. Speer (piano) or Mrs. Toews (organ)–the ladies who accompanied the congregation in their singing. My dream was to one day become the church pianist. But clearly I couldn’t do it without piano lessons or a real piano.
I’m not sure why my parents never indulged my desire for lessons–most parents force that shit on their kids, but I guess they just didn’t take it seriously. Or maybe they just thought I didn’t need them. So instead, later that year for Christmas, I got upgraded to the Casio MT 520.
This model had more keys, though they were much smaller and it had a pretty sweet drum pad. You could really rock out, I guess, but I just wanted to play church hymns like a weirdo. And hymns I played until I started busting the keys. I first lost the F sharp just below middle C, and next to go was the B flat in the same direction. The keys were broken, but you could still hit them so they would press the little button underneath to make the sound. Until that button came off and the notes stopped working entirely. I think at the end I had about 7 or 8 broken keys on that thing, but I just wouldn’t give up.
Whenever I was in a place that had a piano, I would play it. People’s houses, the school music room, church, AWANA, wherever. And if I couldn’t play it for whatever reason, my stomach would almost hurt because I wanted to so bad. I wished all the time that my parents would just buy me a frigging piano. It couldn’t be that hard, right? So many birthdays I would secretly hope for the best birthday surprise of all, where I would come home and find a piano delivery truck in our driveway. Unfortunately, no such surprise ever materialized.
About halfway through grade 9, at 14 years old, I finally got the chance to take lessons. They were offered at my school, and I could duck out of geography once a week for a 30 minute, $9 lesson with Mrs. Giesbrecht. I told her of my dreams to become a church pianist, and she wanted to help me with that, but she knew I needed to learn some proper technique first–which I absolutely hated. She pointed out to me that I didn’t play with my thumbs. She thought it was the strangest thing she’d seen, until I explained that I couldn’t really use my thumbs to play properly on the MT-520. The keys were just too small for my hand span. Understanding my technique was hampered by the tiny keys, she mostly overlooked my awkward fingering and encouraged me to continue. She was a really nice lady.
The summer after grade 9, my dad died. And when Mrs. Giesbrecht called to see if I would be continuing lessons in the fall and to inform us of a price increase, I told her I wasn’t sure that we would still be able to afford it, with my dad no longer around. She offered to keep the lessons at the original price and I was able to continue to take lessons for the next 2 years or so.
When someone dies there’s a ton of shit that happens, unexpected costs arise and life gets a bit crazy. Not only does it suck that you’ve just lost your loved one, but you basically get screwed in a lot of different ways when you’re trying to wade your way through the grief. Months after my dad died, his friends held a memorial golf tournament in his honour. The proceeds from that tournament were donated to our family. I’m not sure why my mom agreed to use a portion to buy me a piano, but she did, and I was super jazzed. Pretty much the only bright spot after months of shitty despair.
We scoured the newspapers, and piano stores as there wasn’t the internet in those days. We came across an old painted upright that was for sale for $400. It didn’t have a bench and it was painted, but the price was right, so we went to check it out. It was a nice piano, the keys were quite yellow, but the paint job wasn’t bad and the sound was really nice. It was the one. The thing I had wanted for my entire life. My very own piano.
The day the piano was delivered was probably one of the most exciting days of my life. I played it from when I got home until well past my bedtime. I remember sitting in the dark living room playing because the sun had set and I didn’t want to get up to turn the lights on. It looked nice in our living room, and the yellow keys never bothered me. My very thoughtful and talented friend, Amber, managed to make me a matching bench in her grade 11 shop class. I don’t think I ever really thanked her for that–it really is a beautiful piece, and especially so, since she was only like 16.
Not long after I got the piano, I did my Grade 8 Piano exam, and passed with flying colours. I went on to be a church pianist and eventually a worship director. I played at almost every service (sometimes 3 a week–it was a fundamental baptist church after all!) for probably 4 years or more. It was a dream come true–the lessons, playing in church, and the piano.
When my mom sold the house several years later, I moved into a one bedroom apartment with no room for a piano, and such has been the case since then. There’s never room for the piano. My Auntie housed my piano at her place for years hoping that one day I might be able to find room for it, until she moved, and could look after it no longer.
My super friend, Rock N Roll Jen offered to take it for me and it stayed with her up until now. I could visit it when I wanted, and it being at Jen’s made for some loud and drunken piano sessions. The time has come that Jen can no longer keep it for me, and I can’t move it here. I’ve come to realize that I will never, while living here in Toronto, be able to host a piano of it’s size. We might be able to fit it into our home now, but we’d never be able to get it up the two flights of stairs. We couldn’t even fit a regular couch in, so I doubt a hundred year old upright would fit.
So it’s time to let it go. I’ll try to give it away–we haven’t had luck so far, but maybe soon someone will take it. And if not, I’ve got a back up plan–my friend Mike and his company Just Junk will know what to do with it–sad as that outcome may be.
The last tune I tickled on it’s ivories was a shaky rendition of Lovesong by the Cure. Pretty fitting, I’d say.
I’m no longer a church pianist nor am I a worship director. I don’t even really play at all anymore. I guess it’s all behind me now but I wanted to tell you about my piano. It’s just an instrument, I know, but it was so much more than that to me and I thought you should know.
As you may or may not have noticed, I haven’t been writing at all. I am a bit disappointed in myself because one of my goals for 2013 was to write more to ensure that I remember it all. I started the year off pretty good, but as life began to change, writing became less of a priority, more of a chore, and frankly, I felt like the things I have to say on the inside are not what I want other people to read. I hope that I was still focusing my energy on my output and creative pursuits rather than consumption of things. But a small part of me thinks that I’ve spent far too much time in front of the television in the last few months–television is a soul-sucking-life-eating time waster, and if I stop to think about it, I shudder at how it seems to drain the motivation right out of me. I’ll have to work on that this year.
I haven’t quite put together my intentions, goals or plans for 2014 just yet. That is disappointing in itself, but I’ve been having a rough go of it since the holidays started. I’ll spare you the details but I’m just not feeling myself. It is a real let down because I love the New Year. I love the chance to start fresh–to create a purpose for myself and my life and re-focus my energy on all the things I want to accomplish in the coming months. The truth is that I’m in this funny place–my life is about to be consumed by another human, I’ve got 5 weeks left on the job and there are no real and desirable goals that are jumping out at me aside from all the things that need to get done RIGHT NOW! I don’t even have a fucking motto or theme song for this year yet.
But I can’t let that get me down. It will come. It just didn’t come before January 1st. And I’m trying on a few candidate songs for 2014, so that’s something…
Though I’m not quite ramped up for 2014, I can still take the time to reflect on the things that have happened in the last year. It seems, based on my facebook feed, that people were happy to leave 2013 behind them. When I first started thinking about it, I realized I had a lot of great things to remember. So here they are, in no particular order, 8 things that happened in 2013 that make me happy.
Pee and a Plus Sign–We knew that we wanted to have more children, so what better time was there after we got married? I was late 4 whole days before Martin would let me take a pregnancy test. He didn’t think it was likely after only a few weeks, but I knew deep down there was a baby in my tummy. Sure enough, we put Marigold to bed, I peed on a stick, and a plus sign appeared. It’s been a bumpy ride, this pregnancy. I’ve had some minor scares, I’ve found myself much more emotional and much more exhausted. Only 7 weeks left to go until this child is scheduled to arrive. We’ll see if I can last that long.
The Begonia EP–While I didn’t do anything personally to accomplish this, it gives me a great deal of pleasure that Gord finally released some of his own music. It was a long time coming and I’m proud of the time and effort he put into it. It really is a great album.
I’ve got a New Boss Now –I really liked my last boss. He was awesome and hilarious and I literally cried for days when I found out he was leaving. I was certain that there was no way that the new boss would be awesome or good or that really anything positive could come of the change. Well, I was wrong, new boss is great. Awesome and amazing even. I’m actually quite sad to be going on maternity leave!
Hoops and Skeins and Fabric, oh my!–I’m not too sure where I got the idea for needlepoint from, but I had been thinking about it for a long while (I guess as an extension of my sewing dreams). Finally one day, I went to the Workroom and dropped less than twenty bones on the supplies I needed to get started. Turns out embroidery is a really simple and inexpensive hobby. It’s similar to tracing, except you’re using thread and the results are really impressive!
Paying it All Off–I have had this deep dark secret for so very long that I have ignored and shoved aside as much as I possibly could, but it was still always bringing me down. When I put my list together of things I wanted to for 2013, I included details on the things I wanted to accomplish. I didn’t want to acknowledge my financial issues–so I just put a line in my list that said “get financially on track”.
I had terrible credit and huge amounts of debt for a really long time and thinking about it made me feel ill to the bone, so instead of dealing with it head on, I just pretended like it didn’t exist. Turns out that doesn’t make it go away, and it doesn’t make you feel good, because no matter how hard you try, you can’t actually forget about it.
Anyways–through a variety of methods–tax returns, savings and what not, I was able to pay off my student loan, and the majority of my debt in 2013. I am no where near as good as I want to be with handling my cash, but I’m definitely a lot better than I was in 2012. I’m paying my bills and saving–I think that’s a good place to start! And for the first time in a really long time–I’m not afraid to answer my phone when it says “unknown caller” because it’s definitely not someone that I owe money to. The tremendous relief I feel is inexplicable.
Everything I’ve Longed For–I have loved Hayden and his music since the 90’s. I would have to say that “Everything I Long For” is probably the most played album I have ever owned. Actually–come to think of it, I don’t even think I own it–I borrowed it from my pal in 1997 and just never bothered to return it because I loved it so much.
I have cried more tears over the lyrics and songs on that album than I could ever dream of counting. They were a solace I could always count on for any break up. My good friend, Ryan T., also loves Hayden as much as I do. It is a special bond that we have shared for over a decade. At the end of November, I finally got to see Hayden in concert–with Ryan T. sitting a few rows behind me. It was pretty rad–the show was great, Hayden was hilarious and awesome–it was everything I ever could’ve wanted in seeing him live for the first time.
Nothing Better–Seeing Hayden live was a lot more likely than ever getting the chance to see the Postal Service. They did one album 10 years ago, and I think they only ever did one tour. I had often dreamed about getting the chance to see them live so when they announced a 10th anniversary tour, I would’ve paid just about anything to see them.
I went alone to the show at the ACC–it was a night just for me. I ate dinner at my favourite Mexican restaurant, did some shots of tequila and went to the show. As an added bonus, Mates of State were opening–they are always good live and also another one of my favourite bands.
Seeing the Postal Service was surreal. The music was fantastic, the lights were amazing and they loved every minute of being on stage. My heart was practically beating out of my chest and I felt like I had been tele-ported to 2004. The show was outstanding.
From this Day On–I always wanted a husband, pretty much for as long as I can remember. It was getting a bit dicey 5 or 6 years ago–I was beginning to think it was never going to happen. I was happy with my life, and was ok with the idea that maybe I wouldn’t get to have a husband one day. I always thought that I would make a pretty good wife. Turns out I make a great wife–just ask Martin. And really, being a wife and having a husband isn’t really what makes me happy–it’s the person that my husband is. His personality, his beliefs and convictions, his compassion and interests, his strength and honour–all of those things make him an amazing person. I’m thankful on a daily basis that he chose me to become his Mrs. McWaters. I laugh to myself from time to time about how unsure I was in the beginning when we started dating. And now, I couldn’t imagine my life without him. I really do love him more and more each day and really look for forward to spending the rest of my life with him.
2013 was great in a lot of ways. Of course there were some bad times–but what good is it to focus on that? It’s the bright spots that will keep you going…pining over the dark days will only bring you down! 2014 is going to be a busy one for us, and it’s a little scary to think about what we’re up against, but after writing this, I’m finally getting excited about setting some goals and planning for what I want to accomplish in 14.
The days seem to be going by so fast and yet I do nothing. I accomplish nothing. Our dishwasher broke a couple of weeks ago, so I guess doing the dishes accounts for more of my time now, but I think it’s a bit outrageous to think that it makes up about 50% of my time. But then there’s laundry, feeding the baby, feeding myself and changing the baby one hundred times a day.