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Archive for March, 2021

Gord Downie

I am now a permanent resident of the U.K. It was always my intention to move here ‘permanently’ back in 2013. I felt quite strongly as I packed up things in Canada that it was a closed chapter, that the U.K. was the place I wanted to put down roots. Immediately upon moving here, I was met with a large Canadian community, whose feelings about being here were mixed. Some like me, wanted to stay indefinitely, some were counting down the days until they were back on Canadian soil and others weren’t sure where they fit, going elsewhere or leaving or staying in the U.K. by accident, wishing they were in the other place again. 

You do become divided when you move somewhere else and I don’t just mean abroad. You become divided for all sorts of reasons, like geographical horcruxes. Even from being a Nova Scotian to a New Brusnwicker, small differences, but differences they were. A Maritimer to an Ontarian, the assumed peripheral to the assumed centre. An Easterner to a Westerner, the ‘have not’ provinces. A North American to a European, the ‘new’ world versus the ‘old’. These environments you long to be a part of, to explore, to observe. The more you move the more you realise how the same and not the same you are in comparison to others. The constant wondering whether staying in one place longing for other places is more or less agonising than moving and missing what you’ve already experienced. It’s an ongoing struggle.

I realise that no matter how long I live here, that I will always be an outsider. That as soon as I open my mouth that I will not be one of them. That I will be reminded of Canada, that people will be curious about Canada, that I will have to explain over and over again why I left or rather, what I was gravitating towards. On some days this is harder to justify than others. On others, it is clear as day. To have to explain to people what my tiny, tiny, tiny experience of Canada is like, feels ingenuine, and yet, it also is more of a feeling than anything I can put into words. 

My partner, when reading my blog for the first time when we started dating, said that my writing voice was just so ‘North American’. He means this as a compliment. I ask him to explain what exactly he means by this but he can’t really explain it. Somehow, strangely, I understand what he meant though, or I think I do. Another friend and I were trying to define ‘Canadian Literature’, which seemed all at once futile, narrow, problematic and yet necessary when trying to define how the literature we teach is different to the literature we grew up with. I say this with an awareness of some of the deeply damaging issues regarding nationalism, but as an outsider, it is comforting to be able to speak about some common reference points such as places, food, people and events that others also know and understand. It’s something you can take for granted when you live around people who can share in this with you all of the time. 

When my ex and I first moved to Saskatchewan, he bought a new car and had created a car challenge of only listening to Canadian artists. My own music had largely, already, fit this bill. Sarah Harmer, Jenn Grant, Fiest, The Stars, The Trews, Michael Buble, I could go on. These were the people I already knew before moving to Saskatchewan, the CDs I already had. The new car was then christened with Gord Downie. My then beloved’s beloved. Even before the car, I knew how he loved Gord Downie with such a devoted and profound reverence, and although I admired it, I didn’t fully understand it. I’m going to be honest here and say that up until that point, my only familiarity with The Hip was Ahead by a Century and Bobcaygeon. Even with this embarrassingly insufficient selection, his voice did resonate with me, I just never thought to explore further. Out of all the many albums of theirs my ex could have bought he chose We are the Same. We listened to the album over and over again as we explored the prairies. I never tired of it. Every time we listened, him singing along with every fiber of his being, I began to understand his love for Gord. 

When I left Canada I didn’t bring any music with me. My CDs (yes, CDs) were left in my ex-boyfriend’s car, and after our break-up, I forgot they existed, forgot to ask for them back and by the time I remembered them, it didn’t seem to make sense to have them if I was getting rid of most of what I owned anyway. When I moved here, I was so wrapped up in trying to adapt, trying to get my head around this new culture that the only music I listened to was music that was on in the background, music that was introduced to me or just nothing. Music had fallen off my radar. It wasn’t until many months later that I played these familiar voices from these abandoned CDs. The lyrics to songs I knew so well because they were played at such pivotal moments of my life. For the life of me now, I cannot remember any new music or lyrics. But those songs, I remember every word, every note, and even the order in which they play on their respective albums. They hold a sacred place in my mind. However, I did not play Gord Downie. For a lot of reasons, I suppose. Firstly, I’m sorry to say, but I genuinely forgot. Secondly, he never really felt like mine. Thirdly, maybe he reminded me of a complicated time with someone who I loved but was relieved to be far away from.

The summer of 2016, Gord Downie played his last concert with The Tragically Hip, in Kingston, a place I had also lived. Gord was dying. My fellow Canadians and I all met at our friends’ house, staying up late, waiting, because of the time difference. Again, I have to confess, I still felt something of a fake, this one album I had listened to, could I really call myself a Gord Downie fan? Did I really understand the significance of this concert? To mourn the death of a man who was not yet dead but was close. To see that with the little strength this man had left, he poured it out for all of us to bask in. To watch his unapologetic eccentricities, that we were relieved hadn’t been lost, even after he had lost so much. His vulnerability. It was then that I understood why my ex had loved him the way he did. The night of that concert was a preemptive wake, his own funeral of sorts. To have had the bravery in admitting his own death. To go out the way he wanted. I sat around that room of other Canadians and we wept in a shared, quiet understanding.

Not too long afterwards, Gord Downie died. It was shortly after that I played the album for the first time since having left Canada. Enough time had passed. I still listen to it on the rare occasion. The most recent time, my partner asking, if this is one of those Canadian artists? I am shocked that he doesn’t understand the absurdity of his question. How would he? We didn’t share it. 

We are the Same. The permanence and irony of that title. After all the different moves, all the different people. I am reminded that yes, in so many ways, we are the same. While simultaneously, for so many other reasons and in so many other ways, we are not.

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