Song #20 // Courtney Barnett “Avant Gardener” [The Double EP]

Courtney-Barnett-The-Double-EP-A-Sea-Of-Split-Peas-608x608When we travel, it’s not that we become who we truly are. Instead, we become who we truly want to be. Short trips are better.

We’re still hungover from last night. We poured on the compliments, made eye contact, struck up conversations with strangers because we knew we’d never see them again. The bartender gave us free drinks, talked to us between serving other less-inviting customers. We felt the charm, the confidence in saying, “We’re not from here…We’re from California.”

We stayed out late, stumbled like we were in college. The fog hung low to the cobblestones of this city, Vancouver, like some gentile vision of the future. Like a dream inside a cloud. We briefly debated what a donair was before buying one. We spent all morning regretting it, wishing the cleaning ladies would take out the trash to erase the smell of humus and cold french fries.

So we decide it’s best to walk around Stanley Park: literally. Take the seawall around the perimeter and watch as the mist and fog climbs over the top of mystical cedars like the visual echo of bonfires. All around us we see fathers and children. One father pushes his small daughter, no more than a year old, in an umbrella stroller. She’s sleeping, with her little head to the side and a calm, if bored, look on her tiny face. We know she’s safe. Her entire world is being taken care of for her. Her dad is so lovely.

It all makes us very sentimental, and sad. All we want to do is hug our children. At times we’re alone on the path, and in those moments we feel triumphantly independent. But yet we have the urge under us at all times to call the people we love, to tell them we miss them, to tell them we want them. We know that if they were actually there the magic of solitude would evaporate. And so, again, on the shaded eastern side, with snow-capped peaks in the distance to the north, we feel suddenly very sentimental and very sad.

And we wonder if we forgot to take our meds, because it was before our meds that we always felt sentimental and sad, and things that make most people happy make us sad, like looking at old photographs or thinking of family trips when we were young, and we try to recall if we popped that pill bottle open last night after the donair, whatever that is, and whether just missing one night can account for feeling so out of control with emotions, emotions that, no doubt, are pure and real, but nonetheless feel like they can push us over the edge, don’t get too close to the seawall now.

When we notice a memorial bench, with a brief, almost laughable nameplate: SoandSo: He made people happy. Just that. He made people happy. And for the first time in our lives we realize that maybe it really is as simple as trying to make others happy. That in a somewhat unselfish way we had always thought it was about making ourselves happy. But this guy made others happy, and someone thought enough of that to memorialize it here. What a revelation.

But the revelation passes as we realize the inherent fallacy in such a summation. That we can’t always make people happy. That sometimes we have to make people unhappy. That our daughters can’t always get what they want. That sometimes we need to be alone to be better lovers. That sometimes telling people they’re wrong or bad is the only thing we can do. And everyone’s unhappy for a time. And maybe they’re happy again in the future and it’s never clear if it’s a causal relationship or what.

And the scale of it all makes us think about God, and how God maybe faces the same dilemmas. Except that she understands the scale. Or we hope she does. Has an understanding of the infinite expanse of compassion and love that we can only glimpse in pockets, at most, if we’re lucky, once or twice a day. Sometimes we don’t see it at all.

But today, in Stanley Park, we do, and we continue walking, slowly turning counterclockwise back to the city, wondering if tonight we should treat ourselves to the cute bistro down the block, and how the coffeehouse inside the art gallery is open till 6 and we can make it if we speed up a bit. And then all the emotion is gone. All the introspection. It’s been a while. It’s cold. We’re tired. We suddenly feel that our inner-thighs are cold and chafing to our stiff jeans.

We just want to go home. We were who we were, and we allowed ourselves to be selfish. Just as we think this we pass Siwash Rock, which was supposedly a person (being?) rewarded for his unselfishness. He was rewarded for being unselfish by being turned into a large rock structure next to the island. Later we try to confirm this on Wikipedia and read a different story. We’re confused. We don’t know who to believe.

There’s a day left in this trip and we’re already checking our flight times. We’re already ready to be ourselves again. We’re already ready. But till then we just think about the people we love. And we make sure to take our meds. Because that’s important, too.