Joel’s Journal – 01/19/2016

Thinking Back


It’s a dangerous age for an artist. Yet, I think I’ll be okay.

I struggled for a long time about what I was going to write about for today’s post. Perhaps a list of all the things I’ve learned in 27 years. I scratched that off the list quickly because not only is it cliched junk, but it wouldn’t be truthful. To be honest, I’m not sure what I’ve really learned about life in 27 years. I’ve sure learned a lot about myself, and I’ve sure learned a lot about how I like to live my life, but I don’t know what I could say to people to actually get through to them how I learned these things

Whenever someone tries to tell you about life it all just comes out in platitudes and bullshit. Like words spoken by a politician, they may sound nice, but they’re empty, there’s a hint of the real thing, but the words aren’t heavy enough to weigh it down.

As I said, writing this post was tough, because I wanted to be completely truthful, because I think that honesty is probably the most important thing in life. I’ve lied before, sure, everyone has, and if you say you haven’t well then you just did it again.

I’ve lied, and those lies have hurt people, and in the end came back to hurt me.

So I wanted this post to be a true depiction of me (or at least a tiny snapshot) after 27 years here.

My mental photo album is a big one. It’s thick, filled with slotted Polaroids, 4x6s and brochures of places across this country and around the word and as I’ve grown up and technology has evolved, I feel like my brain has evolved to not only include a photo album, but a massive database of videos and soundbites from times past.

Some of these memories, may be false, created by my mind now that I’m older as it tries to reconcile things that happened when I was too young to understand them. These images are the fading yellow Polaroids stuck to the pages of my mental photo album.

Others are more vivid, complete with video and sound. It’s like I can close my eyes and still remember exactly what the air smelled like, exactly how warm it was, and the exact feeling I had at the time.

The memories that follow are all real and some of them are very close to me, and as I said, it was a struggle for me to decide whether to share them here.

I decided to take my own advice though, you Readers have been so supportive of everything I did last year that it’s only right that I start the year off with some complete, unabashed honesty.

So, here are a few highlights of my 27 years on earth, each of them has been labelled as to how strong it remains in my head, whether its fading, vivid, or clear, because though I’m being completely honest here, I’ve kept some details to myself for the privacy of those involved.

I’m also not sure why I chose these particular moments, they were just the first collection to come to mind. I could probably fill a book with these things if I had the space. Some of these are from when I was younger, and some as I went through university, so, I tried to capture the age and the moment in which the memory was created. I’ve put them in chronological order to help a little bit.



The windows above the sink are filled with summer sunlight shadowing Grandmas’s movements as she tucks a plate away in the cupboard here and a box of cereal back in the cupboard over there.

My swimsuit is scratchy against my waistline as I wait for Mom to finish talking and take us outside to the pool.

Their voices are nothing but a dull murmur as I stare into the yellowy glow of the sun.

My grandmas house is high on a hill and overlooks the streets and houses that stretch out below, looking like the car mat I use to play with my Hot Wheels on.

From where I’m sitting at the table I can’t see the streets or the tiny houses far below, but I can see the tips of two particularly tall trees, looking like the tips of a pair of McDonald soft serve cones, except green.

I hear the Cardinals calling before I can see them. Their song a soft, melodic whistle that rolls across the summer sky in waves. The whistle comes in high then fades away like someone turning down the volume slowly, then it rolls back up as the whistle gets louder.

I only know it’s a bird, and I only know their called Cardinals because my mom told me, and she whistles just like them. By the pool, she whistles to them and they answer back, like they’re trying to speak to us.

About 20 years later I would get a Cardinal tattooed across my shoulder.


Thumbs up. The video camera rolls.

I push off with my right foot, once, twice, three times. I pick up momentum as my board growls across the pavement behind Kitchener city hall.

My heart is literally slamming into my chest. The sweat on my forehead is drying in the wind as I fly towards the set of stairs. I don’t think.

It was probably the reason why I didn’t land it.

The nose of my board cuts into the air above the first step like a knife, then I’m in the air, kicking the board out from beneath me before my feet slam into the concrete 12 steps below. I roll forward, over my shoulder, onto my side before I’m back on my feet. I still had the force field of young bones to keep everything intact, save for a few scrapes on my hands and elbows.

I can’t remember how many more times I tried, or how many times I rolled across the pavement, leaving pieces of skin and drops of blood behind, but eventually I stuck it.

I can still feel that smile on my face as I rolled away, the corners of my lips practically scratching my ear lobes.


The couch just wasn’t cutting it.

It was too small for me to roll on top of her, and too short to extend our legs fully.

It was in the living room. It was noisy. Her parents were right down the hall.

With a frustrated (in more ways than one) sigh, I dropped onto my side, laughing, but not out of humour.

Her face was inches from mine and she was smiling too.

Without a word, she took my hand and we stood from the couch and headed for the backdoor.

I didn’t know what she had in mind at the point, but ever since I’d met her, I felt like I would have followed her anywhere.

Once on the back deck, the smell of hay and the nearby cornfield, a rich organic smell, filled the summer night. A small bulb by the door cast a triangle of light that only reached to the edge of the raised deck. From there it turned dark as it dropped off a few steps.

She pulled me in that direction and out into the darkness.

It wasn’t completely black. A large moon hung in the sky painting everything with a navy blue light. The barn off across the lawn framed the metal stall in which a horse trotted in circles occasionally blowing off the roaming mosquitos.

The summer night was surprisingly cool, with a slight breeze, yet her hand gripping my own was hot, like she had just pulled it away from an open flame. When she placed her other hand on the back of my neck, it was just as warm.

She pulled me forward and the two of us went tumbling into the grassy field.

There was certainly a lot more room than the tiny couch.


I could hear the TV rumbling in the living room beneath me, gunfire, explosion, reaction. The loud groan was followed by a plastic clanking as my roommate dropped the controller down onto the wooden coffee table.

My mind registered these things, but I didn’t really hear them at the time. I had just discovered an entirely new world.

My heart was beating fast and my fingers practically twitched with anticipation.

Doors were being kicked open inside my head as new possibilities, thoughts that I never even knew existed, started to flood into my brain.

Not only had I just discovered writing, my fingers slowly tapping away at my first short story, but I know now I had actually discovered a way of life.


She is sitting across the table from me.

A plaid, yellow scarf is tied around her neck beneath a crop of thick brown curls.

I keep finding myself looking back at her, like my eyes can’t help it. I was both excited and nervous at the same time.

Excited because, well, what guy isn’t excited when a gorgeous girl is in the room, and nervous because I knew eventually I wouldn’t be in her presence anymore, and a small part of me already dreaded when that eventuality would come to pass.

So, the same way you try and eat a delicious meal in small bites, savour it, I continued to glance back at her. The soft curves of her cheeks, the lines of her neck that disappeared down into her sweater. Her deep brown eyes, which occasionally flickered in my direction causing my heart to jump.

And just like a good meal, no matter how slow you eat it, it’s eventually gone.

I wanted to absorb as much of her as I could.

The funny thing was, I didn’t even know her.

Not then.


I could feel the water sliding down my back, seemingly pushed by the warmth of the sun.

I dropped back onto the warm rock and she picked up my plaid shirt and put it on over her bra.

The water had been cold, but after the canoe trip across the lake, it felt good.

Tipping the cold beers out of my bag, I cracked the two of them open and handed one to her. She smiled and took a seat on the rock beside me.

Tragically Hip started to play from my iPhone and we sat, staring at the sunlight turn the surface of the water into diamonds.

Reaching into my bag I offered a guilty look and she shook her head as I pulled the pack of cigarettes out and placed one between my lips.

Her curls had gotten much longer since that first time I’d met her, and they glistened like wet silk in the sunlight.

The lake was a small one, only a couple football fields across. Looking down off the rocks, I thought about how deep it might be.

Her hand fell on top of mine and that feeling, a feeling that was starting to get very familiar swelled up from somewhere deep inside me. It was a huge feeling, one that I was barely able to contain inside my chest, and seemed to fill every inch of me.

She smiled at me as I sipped my beer. I smiled back.

Turning back to the lake, I again started to think about how deep it was.

Again I couldn’t tell you why these particular memories jumped out at me. Perhaps my state of mind when I sat down to write this, perhaps they were the first offerings to float to the surface of my consciousness, I don’t know.

I could have mentioned moving into my first apartment, travelling Europe with my brother (or perhaps either of the two times I went overseas before that). I could have mentioned graduating university, or landing my first reporting job, or what it’s like to move across the country. I could have talked about high school, or walking by the Grand River, or kissing in the middle of a mosh pit (this is actually a great story).

Any of these would have served as vivid memories for this entry, perhaps I’ll tell you about them another time.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading,