Making stops along the way

We’re getting into that summer weather, finally, without another 0-degree day in the forecast for the next few months. Summer signals a few important things every year. For one, it means I’ve made it through the lulls of winter and lows of Smarch, from March to May - full of teases of sun and warmth, but always happy to slap you around with a few more weeks of sub-zero.

A good friend made a half-joke on Twitter recently about how much the weather has unexpectedly come to rein over his mood as he ages - and I can’t agree more.

With the warm weather and sunny days, summer also means energy. I have the energy to tackle projects, get back to more running, and spend quality time with the kids without being (as) completely exhausted by every bit of effort. Having the energy to do more than just barely survive means I have the energy to care again - to read and absorb more about topics I care about but can’t always budget the emotional, cognitive, or physical energy to put into.

Summer also means The Tragically Hip. They kicked this one off with a new album of thought-lost tracks just in time for the May 2-4 weekend and it’s already a national treasure. The Canadian charts agree, too. My vinyl copy is currently lost somewhere in a Canada Post warehouse, like the crated Ark at the end of Raiders. Fortunately, on my recent push to collect The Hip’s albums on vinyl, I have my beloved copy of Fully Completely to get the summer started.

Album art and vinyl copy of The Tragically Hip's 1993 Fully Completely

I love music, but I frequently find myself dazing out to lyrics. I’ll have a few stick in my head, but they rarely grab me like the instrumentation does. Gord Downie’s lyrics aren’t like this. They hook me and dig right in. The man’s poetry has always caught me like he’s fishing for dinner, rather than catch-and-release. Songs like “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)” grab me in a way I’ve seldom encountered with other music. I love following Gord’s web of references and influences - and I have a growing shelf of Hugh MacLennan paperbacks to prove it!

Shelf of paperback spines, featuring Hunter S. Thompson, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and three books from Hugh MacLennan

This time around, “Looking For a Place to Happen” was the track that grabbed me. I’ve liked the starting verse for years, since first hearing it:

Got a job
I explore
I follow every little whiff
and I want my life to smell like this

And, of course, the main chorus:

Looking for a place to happen
making stops along the way

I love the picture painted of a person who isn’t just exploring, but who is free to wander, follow whims (or whiffs), and search out a place that grabs them. Pair that with the “making stops along the way” line, and I start to feel that kind of connection I haven’t had since “Courage”.

Seriously - you can ask my running buddy how much of a 15km run I recently spent talking his ear off about The Watch that Ends the Night and that beautiful “human tragedy” verse borrowed by Downie.

Gord Downie, bathed in shadows blue light, singing "there's no simple explanation"

Still from the video for ‘Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)’ as Gord Downie hits that brillant passage from the novel that helped inspire the song.

Summer also brings my birthday at the end of July. Another year means I spend some time reflecting on the person I am, I’d like to be, and the one I’ve mostly left behind. “Making stops along the way”, for me, helps sum up something which has taken most of my life to realize, acknowledge, and start to lean into. I love to explore. I love to follow every little whiff. And while I don’t always know where I’m going or what I want out of life, I certainly make many stops along the way. For me, the fun of life is to figure things out - even if it hurts, leads down dark paths, or just takes a really long time. I take the long way around with just about everything. I like to think of it as the scenic route.

There’s a reason I dropped out of university after one year. I don’t learn from sitting in a big room and being told about the world. Passive knowledge is not for me. It might be a cognitive limitation, but it’s something I’ve learned to accept and live with. There’s a reason why I’ve excelled at agency and consulting work, too - I like quickly learning about new worlds, people, industries, audiences, and then moving on when I’m done. This is just me and I’m working on making the best of it.

So, with all this in mind, I naturally wanted to learn more about Gord’s influences and intentions with this particular song. I knew Jacques Cartier is named as the explorer, and there are references to people showing up and sticking around, but that was about it. If you look into the meaning yourself, you’ll find it collides quite heavily with a great, big, awful part of Canada’s colonial history which has exploded back into the news in recent weeks (content warning for that link).

And this is why I love The Tragically Hip and Gord Downie. The band and its front man are a big part of the small collection of things that I still love about Canada. And that’s an increasingly tough thought to wrap my head around - especially while the country’s heinous ongoing history (content warning for that link) is back on the front burner.

I’m thankful that summer is here. The energy to care about bigger things is back in my life, and once again, The Hip has helped keep me pointed where I want to be and finding the whiff I’d like my home to follow. I’m here, I’m writing again, and I’m looking for my way to make things happen - even if I have made stops along the way.

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