2016 in Review

2016 was not a good year for a lot of people. Mine got better as it went on.

In the first part of the year a ten-year relationship came to an end, and for all the difficulties of that time I am going to remember one important thing: we both fought as hard as we could to save what we had, and when we reached the end of that part of our journey together we could both honestly say, “I gave it all I had.” That is no small thing, and may be the essence of love, even between two people who could not in the end bridge the gap between them. We remain friends, and that too is no small thing.

There were other adventures in the first half of the year in skiing, improv, sailing, and business that kept me insanely busy until the end of June. There were also some interesting interpersonal times in there, too.

In June I decided it was time to take the summer off of having a personal life, to say goodbye to all that and focus on just two things: sailing and musical improv. Which if you’d told me at the start of 2016 is what I’d be doing in the summer I would have laughed. Not so much the sailing–I was already looking for a new boat–but musical improv?

I got into musical improv in early 2016 because I had the opportunity, and I was afraid. Terrified, really. I’ve always been told I “can’t sing”. I had a non-singing part in a musical in high school, and the audition for the singing parts of that show is probably the last time sang alone in public. On top of that life-long fear, my hearing aides were wearing out, and I was having more and more trouble catching the sense of scenes in regular improv, so the thought of dipping my toe into musical improv–as a deaf man who “can’t sing” and who was dealing with some pretty significant social anxiety issues on top of that–was even more scary.

Going to Jennifer Pielak’s first musical improv happy jam makes it into the top ten scariest things I have ever done, including the time I had to deploy my reserve parachute because my main had opened as a tangled collection of brightly-coloured garbage flapping merrily above my head as I plunged toward the ground at lethal velocity.

The difference is that pulling the reserve rip chord in the lonely autumn sky is one of the most solitary things I’ve ever done, whereas opening my throat to sing the first time at that drop-in workshop I was surrounded by supportive, wonderful people. There were certainly stumbles all along the way, but from that very first happy jam I knew I wanted more. Musical improv combines two of my very favourite things: poetry and theatre. And it does it in all the right ways, grounding the theatre in authentic relationships and expressing the emotions through the poetry of song. All of it with amazing people.

2016 included three courses and countless drop-ins and mixers, plus extra coaching with a musical improv troupe I’m part of. And three improvised musical performances, as well as many songs on various stages with a wide variety of wonderful people. I took singing lessons over the summer–should have done that the first time I was told I can’t sing!–and plan to continue to focus on musical improv in the new year. Because joy.

So that was kind of unexpected. I got new hearing aides in the midst of it all, and a friend who hadn’t talked to me for a couple of months after I got them commented when we ran into each other again, “Your voice is different.” That’s what being able to hear yourself will do!

Then there was sailing, which started out with me falling on my (thankfully-wetsuit-covered) ass on a sea urchin and ended in finding love.

In late June I single-handed up the Sunshine Coast and over to Lasqueti Island, where I spent few days canoeing and snorkeling around the bays and rocks and reefs–and falling on my butt–and hiking on Jedidiah Island Marine Park. I needed to spend time alone.

“Murrelet”, the old Bayfield 29 I bought in January, proved to be a comfortable and easy sailer, although I had a fairly amusing adventure in anchoring in Smuggler’s Cove Marine Park on the second night out, which involved every imaginable global failure on my part while doing everything locally right. The good news is, through excellent seamanship I managed to avoid collisions with other vessels, while at the same time having everything else go wrong. It was an educational experience.

That trip was cut short by a call from my brother, saying our mother had had a stroke, and I ran under power for Nanaimo across the quiet sea, through the long summer dusk, as a gentle rain fell out of the iron-grey sky. I made it into hastily-arranged moorage just before dark, and saw Mom in hospital. Since then she has made a remarkable recovery, and I’m still betting she’ll outlive me. Old people, as Sir Terry Pratchett reminded us, have a lifetime to practice not dying. They’re really good at it.

The second trip was different. Much earlier in the year my friend Hilary and I had arranged to sail together through the Gulf Islands in August. We were briefly a couple many years ago, and have since made a lot of art together from poemed illustrations to goofy Dr Suess-style stories to experiments in illustrated web-serials. She lives in Montreal, and we see each other every year or so, and go sailing when we can.

We’ve sailed together before, but this was the first time in over ten years that we were both single, and there was something in the air between us. I’d been single for only a few months, though, and it took us by surprise, so we both simply enjoyed being with each other, and let it be. It was a great trip, despite running out of fuel off Saltspring Island and a very rough crossing of the Strait in a moderate North-West gale on the way home.

In early September she called me from Montreal and asked, ‘Why didn’t things work out between us?’ I could have answered in a few simple words, but I wasn’t sure they were true any more. So we talked. And we talked. And we talked.

In early October I said ‘I have to know’ and booked a ticket to Montreal. I flew out on the last weekend of October, and was there for a very few minutes before I realized this was probably who I was going to spend the rest of my life with.

It’s early days yet, but she’s turned in her resignation at work and she will be moving out to live with me early in the new year. I’ve found a place for us in Kits.

All of which surprised the hell out of me while at the same time seeming completely inevitable.

This year reminds me of a line from Steven Brust’s much-under-rated Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill: “I laughed. I cried. I fell down. It changed my life.”

That’s what this year has been like, from falling down while clambering over reefs off Lasqueti, to crying while breaking up, to laughing with Hilary. It changed my life.

2016 was the Year of Self-Acceptance. I have struggled with who I am versus who I’m “supposed to be” for a long time. Most people do. In 2016 I made a very fundamental choice to simply be who I am, and everything else followed from that.

At the end of last year I wrote:

The year to come? I dunno. I never know why I do what I do until I’ve done it, and I never know where I’m going ’til I get there, and then look back and see the inexorable logic of the decisions that determined my way. I have another book or two in the fermentation phase beyond the novel mentioned above. There’s one about god and there’s one about science and there’s something to do with iron, or coupled stochastically driven oscillators, or something, which is apparently why I upgraded my Mathematica license.

But I also said:

My life experience tells me that when I set my course and am clear about my objective, I get where I want to go.

In 2017 I have increasingly clear objectives, and am setting my course to pursue them. It is going to be the Year of Creation, or pursuing the new direction I have set myself. A few of my goals have to do with work, which I won’t talk about here, but which has been going fairly well and which is a necessary thing to enable the rest. The others involve business, sailing, music, improv, poetry, and writing. And joy. And love.

About TJ

Scientist, engineer, inventor, writer, poet, sailor, hiker, canoeist, father.

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