A year ago, I wrote a not-that-happy-happy-new-year song, and I think it still rings true, perhaps even more so as we survive and struggle and thrive and push forward into 2017.

Here’s to us, my melting snow banks and shining January 1st stars. I love you so.

 

To Us (Happy New Year)

Happy new year! I wrote this wee ditty yesterday with all the best wishes for a new year of mess and beauty. To us!

Posted by Christa Couture on Friday, January 1, 2016

Lyrics:

Oh, our human ways that we tally up the days
We fold the corner of the page to keep our spot
And then we act amazed to see a number change
Like it’s us that’s rearranged when it’s not

I’m not one to tell you, hon, “it’ll be alright”
Of course it might be, but here’s the rub: not tonight

So happy new year to choices, to losses, and divorces
To all the best intent that missed the mark
Happy new year to brilliance, to stillness, and to sickness
To that which didn’t kill us that made us hard

No I’m not one to tell you, hon, “we’re in the clear”
Of course we might be, but here’s the rub:
Probably not this year

So happy new year to resentment, to enjoyment, disappointment
To all the best laid plans we won’t pull off
Happy new year to the weary, to fury, and recovery
To that which doesn’t kill us that makes us soft

Yes, to that which doesn’t kill us that makes us soft

I’m not one to tell you, hon, “don’t give up”
But if you don’t you’ll get the joke that is yet to come

Happy new year
Happy new year
To us.

I’m writing. Not songs, for the time being, but pages and pages of stories. True stories: some of the ones I’ve been telling in songs for years are now finding a new place as I continue to try and understand and share the experiences, and some I haven’t told before.

As it stands, I’m writing a book about loss. And as I write and research, I’ve been reading many other books about grief and also memoir in general.

This week, a column I recorded with Shelagh Rogers for The Next Chapter aired on CBC about the books I’ve turned to.

You can listen to that interview here.

But let me explain.

hisforhawk-220 madeleine-thien-certainty-books100  hotwetandshaking-220

The first three — H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, Certainty by Madeleine Thien, and Hot, Wet, & Shaking by Kaleigh Trace are explained in the interview.

But in case you skip the audio, the inclusion of the third needs elaboration because at a glance you are saying, “that’s not a book about loss, that’s a book about sex,” and well YES you are right.

I read Hot, Wet, & Shaking because I was looking at forms of memoir; I read it because it’s written by a disabled woman and as a disabled woman myself HOLY SMOKES is it hard to find our voices represented, much less on the subject of disability AND sex (gasp).

And there are ways that I have equated disability to grief — the space it can take in my days and the planning around it. So this book made it’s way on to the list for that reason as well.

AND Trace’s book empowers difference and different bodies. Which is pretty much everybody/every body. I felt really good about being in my skin after I read the book. You probably will, too.

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The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown is a book I read at my son Ford’s bedside during the months he was in hospital. Brown and his family spend time navigating the medical system for their disabled son, and I felt comfort is seeing that part of my life reflected. It may not be a book about loss, exactly, but it is, to me, a book about adjustment, acceptance, and parenting.

When speaking about Hawk during the interview, I mention the inspiration I’ve found in books about the natural world. Trauma Farm by Brian Brett is included in this list as one of my favourite examples of that. I find the descriptions of life and death in the animal world refreshingly frank; I relate to the visceral presence of breath, blood, and bodies.

Brett is also very funny.

(I stayed at Trauma Farm, the actual place on Salt Spring Island, while on tour with C.R. Avery in 2012, before I read the book, so I had the delightful insight of knowing the sound of Brett’s voice as I read his words — not required to enjoy the book, I’m sure, but look up some interviews with the guy, he has warmth and character.)

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is like the grief classic. I read it just a couple month’s after my son Emmett died and it was the first truly understanding voice I heard in those months. Her experience of loss, in this book, is that of her husband. It didn’t matter the type of loss: the blurriness of time, the in/visibility of the bereaved, all of it was “yes, yes, yes, exactly that, thank you for saying so” for me.

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All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Well, goodness. This book ties for first with Magical Thinking as far as Books That Best Articulate Grief and Chronic Trauma for me. It is full of dark humour, as a life filled with loss often is; it’s beautiful and it aches.

Sorrows, like Certainty on this list, is fiction. But I feel little difference between non- and fiction on the subject, and these two are books that grew out of lived experience; both are full of the author’s own heart break. What feels real is real in these stories.

Pema Chodrin’s When Things Fall Apart is a good, heart-opening approach to suffereing, though I must admit when I first read it, the hardships she was talking about didn’t seem hard enough. This book is perfect for ordinary heartache — not easy heartache mind you, but the kind we’re surrounded by. The book vibrates with compassion.

theheartandthebottle-220If you have, in your thoughts or on paper, written letters to a loved one, perhaps with the things you wish you could have said in person, Paula by Isabel Allende will reach you.

Lastly, the kid’s book The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers is on the list as sometimes pictures and just a few words is all you need. There are many kid’s books about loss, and a lot of them bad. This is one of my favourites, as far as how we carry heartache forward.

And that’s the 10 that came to mind when I was asked to put together a list. I am always looking for more friends in books, and I hope you may find a friend in at least one of these, and if not, at least, a little joy or comfort. We can all always use a little more of that.

xoc

I love UnReserved on CBC. I really enjoyed my chat with Rosanna in April while on the Long TIme Leaving Canadian tour (though I had stopped in at CBC Winnipeg to record the live performance of “Alone in This,” the interview was done via studio link with me in Saskatoon) and was thrilled that they invited me back for an extended chat. This time, I got to talk with Rosanna in person in Winnipeg, hurrah!

The premise was to go through some of my musical loves – and it’s too bad (due to rights restrictions) you don’t get to hear the actual songs play in the online version – but from the first ever song I remember being inspired by, we also delved into loss (as ever), we stumbled upon our band name (Rosanna, when we takin’ that show on the road?), I read a passage from “The M Word,” and we got to unrequited crushes, too. All the ups and downs!

 

Chi miigwetch to the UnReserved crew, for having me back on the how, and introducing me to Wine Wednesdays at Moxies.

This piece got some unexpected attention online yesterday, and while it was the basis of that story I did on DNTO in 2015, I never really shared the written version two years ago when it won third place in Room’s nonfiction contest.

Perhaps it would have ranked better if I had employed a copy editor or known then how to reel in comma splices and better place modifiers… ahem. BUT, in all its grammatically error-ed glory, “Wallflower, Late Bloomer.”

Sitting on the edge of the tub I look at the large, red sore on my stumpthe edges of its oval shape roughen in the heat of the shower, small bumps push to the surface.

“What do you call your amputated leg?” H asked, years ago.

“Technically ‘residual limb.’”

“That sounds like something you can’t wash off.”

“Also stump.”

“Like you’re a tree?”

“Like part of me is.”

 

Read the full piece at roommagazine.com.

I love the CBC. I say it all the time, I know. And I LOVE my CBC broadcasters. (Mine!!)

When I heard Candy Palmater would be hosting a new daily afternoon show, I said “Candy for two hours every day?” I think it came out wrong to present company at the time.

“I’m nervous for sure. I feel like all my ancestors are leaned up behind me. When has this ever happened? When has a native person in general ever had the opportunity to talk to the nation for two hours a day? A native woman?”

…said Candy herself, “a gay native feminist comic raised by bikers” no less.

And that’s the thing; it’s huge to have that voice, her voice, every day. I love hearing it. So the chance to meet her and The Candy Show crew was a delight.

You can listen to the whole interview I did with Candy here.

I DO heart CBC! Outside the mothership in Toronto…

I have a new scar (I like scars). It was twice-made three weeks ago today. First, by a thyroidectomy and second, hours later, in an emergency procedure to address an arterial bleed, also known as “that time you were partially decapitated” by my dear (most inadequate adjective) Susan, who was there and who, by being there, may well have saved my life. Doctors had to reopen my neck at the bedside with me still awake, and it was one of the scarier medical moments of my life (a life that’s been riddled with experiencing and witnessing a lot of scary medical moments). Susan and I may have only just, respectively, stopped shaking from the surreal adventure.

We’re okay.

I’m okay. I’ve been incredibly supported by friends through this experience and that support has been a well of feeling love and home.

I can’t yet lift my head too high — so if we hug that’s why I’m resting my cheek on your chest (so cozy!) — and I’m navigating fluctuating calcium levels and new hormones.

Also, my voice. Truth is, I postponed this surgery until after my CD release tour in case it changed my voice. At inspection, my vocal cords are not permanently damaged. They are, temporarily I’m told, by use, changed. My voice is weakened, breathy, and pitchy (pitchy!!). Notes are airy and truncated. Some are out of reach. My voice is slightly unfamiliar and a little wild. I’m getting to know her and she holds surprises. She sounds like me. But different.

It’s only been three weeks.

In the moments that the doctors and nurses were addressing the haematoma, I was staring up at the ceiling thinking “I probably won’t die because there are all these people here to fix this, but I do need space for the pain.” Thank you mindfulness training for planting that thought. I was having difficulty breathing, and blood was pouring down my chest as the surgeon’s fingers pulled open skin, muscle, and pulled clots out of the cavity of my neck. I looked at Susan and saw her fear; I felt fear. I looked at the surgeon and saw his steadiness. I thought about not fighting the pain.

In a week, I’ll be playing a grand piano in Koerner Hall in Toronto as part of my presentation at this year’s ideacity. It’s a remarkable opportunity. And I’ll be showing up with the new voice. All I can do is invite that voice in, and invite others to receive it as I do in every performance. I can’t wish this voice were something it’s not. I can’t fight with it.

Easier said that done, but hey, what’s a practice of trying to be present without reminders of why? Because things can change in an instant.

After ideacity, I’ll be resting this voice and giving it time to return to/find new strength, singing softly to my garden and the trees that frame it, singing to you from here, maybe coming up with new stories of How I Got This Scar (knife fight? Bear attack? Sloppy vampire?), and plotting my next bold move.

xoc

Rather, “The Dead Ladies Project,” one of my favourite reads this year.

I’ve been telling everyone to read it, including CBC’s The Next Chapter. Listen to my review here.

Christa Couture is a singer-songwriter from Vancouver who recently moved to Toronto. She’s just finished reading The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats and Ex-Countries by Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin.

It’s a travelogue, it’s a memoir, it’s part literary criticism. Jessa is so smart, she’s the founder of Bookslut, which is a really good source for good reads. In this book, she’s also depressed. At the beginning of the book she’s suicidal, so she leaves her home in Chicago and travels to Europe with a single suitcase. She starts to trace the footsteps of dead artists, writers and composers.

…It’s so candid, and it’s raw. What I love about the book is that she’s looking in these cities, she’s looking to these writers and the work they made, and she’s looking in herself. It ends not really with any resolution, but with a sort of resolve that I felt comforted by. I felt companionship in getting to travel with her through this. And then at the end just that sense of having to keep trying. And that the pursuit of art might be the reason to keep going.

It was a 2013 tour in Germany that inspired the first one-line-for-each-place reflection once I got home, and I like trying to extract, or encapsulate, what stands out about each place — especially because once a tour is complete, there can be such a blurring of faces, backdrops, and events. There are also so many vivid and brilliant moments; some of them are still reverberating, shining, giggling, swaying, sighing in my thoughts and bones.

I like to pause and see what comes to mind — not unlike #ddnd on Twitter (“dear day not diary” and a daily highlight composition) — neither too soon after the tour, nor too long. Today is the day, friends, and I’m thinking of the dots and hearts we connected in song from the west to east coasts.

Duncan, your low hanging moon was not where I left it but how I remembered it, and your sun’s warmth was the first of its kind this year; you began.

Victoria, you represented 1996 and 2013 in beautiful women’s big smiles and a folded piece of newsprint with a picture of me.

Vancouver, you filled a room and my heart with every way and time that I know you, and I noticed your touch every single time in slow motion; you were hard to leave.

Ymir, your certain kind of magic was the solution to the long drive’s equation; you hung my poster — and I smiled wide for it — amid flour and sugar.

Calgary, turns out you’re younger than you look and you sound older than you are; your deft repair turned on lights below and ignited backstage giggles.

Lloydminster, your virtual and physical knowledge differed and we championed a comedian’s first, ending it all on a piano bench with white wine and a chorus of “Proud Mary.”

Winnipeg, you sidled up to the curb in a way to besmirch your near-perfect paralell parking reputation and were touched by the presence of Birds Hill to Berlin and back.

Stony Mountain, the first double, you sold girl guide cookies, belly sweat in your new dress, and talked about “the girls” while we exaggerated stories of potential.

Onanole, we drove into your April snow storm and, unplugged, planned musicals and heard of house fires.

Saskatoon, you won over the Statler and Waldorf of the joint and swooned in the arms of a baby grand, melting in her steel and wood.

Calgary, we returned, you beckoned from the hot tub after singing along.

Edmonton, we tried to nap in the “room for crying” and navigated puzzle pieces from the past, remembering the waiting of 7 years ago most.

Sherwood Park, you panned for gold in the Saskatchewan River and spun pure magic near changing walls.

Toronto, as my new home you showed home well:  replies from here, there, and everywhere I’ve reached my hand out to; you held and lifted.

Montreal, you were the best you’ve ever been, near full, smiling, and seeing at long last via Aurora and 73rd Ave.

Ottawa, your rainy Sunday slowed us all down, not to mention those stairs, but you’re always my favourite hiding place and I was glad to close my eyes and rest my head on your shoulder.

Cole Harbour, you were funny and lovely, setting up a new world with a three day life span.

Saint John, your sunset was just one of the warm faces in the crowd, and after the music your eyes-filled with tears as you told me of your lost one; I noticed what I missed about those stories, this time.

Fredericton, the background noise would come and go but we, a small but dedicated few, travelled its peaks and troughs together, glowing for each other; plus gin.

xoc

Day 33 and this particular Canadian tour comes to an end! It’s been the best Canadian tour I’ve had yet, in both the practical, concrete ways and the intangible and magical ways.

Upon getting home, I sat on the couch and played ukulele covers of all the tour/homecoming songs I could think of. There are so many good ones, I’m not sure I’d ever need to write another. Here’s a bite of Brandi Carlile’s “What Did I Ever Come Here For.”

My heart is full. My body is tired. I’ve given and received so much.

It’s been two years since “The M Word: Conversations on Motherhood” was published and editor Kerry Clare has been posting follow up pieces from contributors on her blog Pickle Me This.

This opportunity came up just before I left on tour and I wasn’t sure if I would have time for it, not just time to write it, but to feel it, too. Writing about my kids asks for space. And Kleenex.

On the flight from Vancouver to Toronto, I wrote my two-years later post; my part of the ongoing conversations on motherhood. You can read it over at picklemethis.com.

This is the fifth in a series of posts catching up writers from The M Word, and finding out what they’re up to now. (Find out more about The M Word and read its rave reviews right here.) From previous weeks: “Kerry Ryan on Wishing and Washing“; “Heather Birrell on Talking to her (M)Other Self”; “Dear Me, by Nicole Dixon“; “Kerry Clare on Motherhood and Abortion.” 

In her essay, “These Are My Children”, Christa Couture introduces readers to her sons, Emmett and Ford, and recounts how she has mothered and related to motherhood since their deaths. Here, she considers what’s changed and what hasn’t in the two years since her essay was published…