The scars of summer

The scars of summer
all restaurants should look like this

I've been less than consistent with getting to these. I realize that I've been missing the occasional Tuesday here and there and this is me apologizing without ever once saying I'm sorry. I'm overworked, tired, a little burnt out. Gassy.

And now, surprisingly, an award winning writer.

On Friday night an email came into my inbox that just said "hey I'm at the DPA's, you just won", which is honestly how everyone should find out they've won an award. We could save a lot of money lost to elaborate conference centres if we moved to the all one sentence email structure.

I won for Best Personal Essay at the Digital Publishing Awards for a piece I wrote in Hazlitt about growing up closeted in the Yukon, cheating on the eye exam and ADHD. This is an award I've been nominated for twice before and lost twice before and it had become a fun enough part of my bio, two time award losing writer Niko Stratis is just funny enough to not be sad.

I like to lean into this idea of myself as a two time loser because the alternative is that I have to admit that I might be good at this and that doesn't feel safe. I have always been bad at things, it keeps me alive. I was bad at skateboarding when I was a kid but I thought I was incredible at it, and when I grew into an adult with a growing drinking problem I got blackout drunk at a house party, grabbed a longboard and proceeded to go ass-over-teakettle with an motorcycle innocently parked out on on the street because I swore I was good at skating.

Someone found me wandering around the party holding my arm, covered in blood, asking if anyone had any paper towel or perhaps some tape.

Kind of a funny story, in a sad kind of way. This is my thing. Award-winning kind of funny kind of sad stories about hurting myself a lot – emotionally and/or physically – and being old and still alive enough to write the memories down somewhere.

I think we have to hurt ourselves just a little though, just enough to feel alive. I have this fleeting thought of the destruction I chased in search of a body, it's the subtitle for a book I can't even begin to think about writing right now as I finish the two on my desk already. The times I've hurt are the times I've felt the most alive and the times I've felt the most alive are the days that I feel like there is something worth sticking around for.

There's a line in a song that's been haunting me the last few days. What you are and what you wanna be, takes a long, long, long, long time.

I knew the song was by The Courtneys, and it was one of those haunting lines that I wanted to figure out for myself. Yes I can just google the lyrics and yes it can spit the answer back at me and that would solve this but I craved something a bit more tangible. I needed to shift through songs and be wrong more than right each time I thought I knew where the truth was hiding.

I am nothing if not stubborn, committed to this kind-of-funny-kind-of-sad life of failure in search of the truth.

And really, this became a good excuse to listen through The Courtney's second record, II, which is one of those all-time great albums that sits waiting to be reborn every year. It's seasonal, like cicadas in the park, skateboards on sinister pavement and iced coffee in the sweltering heat. Here when the time is right.

There's something in the Courtneys that sounds like a road trip, if you could set music to the way your hand dances in the wind hanging out a window on a long stretch of perfect highway somewhere just outside of cell service it would sound just like this. Sure you could brand their sound with genericisms; shoegaze or slacker pop or what have you. In Discorder magazine they referred to themselves as artisanal grunge and maybe if we let bands describe their own genre this world might turn into something so pure and perfect it could fix what's broken in all of us.

We talk a lot about the song of the summer, and the quest to get there with someone or something, some single that will come along and define the weeks and days we left behind and this is a pessimists way of looking at cataloging time. The Courtneys are the song of the summer for me because they are the signal that it has arrived, their sound bright and saturated and fuzzed out just enough to herald in the heat and the sun and the cicadas somewhere unseen above us.

What you are and what you wanna be, takes a long time

It wasn't "Silver Velvet", the opening track of the Vancouver (by way of California and also France) bands' second and to-date last record. But "Silver Velvet" scratches another itch and for a while the search doesn't matter anymore. nothing you say and nothing you could stop me from thinking about you.

I move on when the song is over, onto the next which is also a terrific fucking banger and the quest becomes less important but no less real. I know I want to remember the song that has been rolling around my head like a rock in the bottom of an empty can of Ginger Ale but I also just want to hang here for a while. Everything is urgent everywhere around me and right now this quest is the most nothing way I could spend a life and I need nothing. Crave nothing.

I shift through songs, I put one on a playlist ("Country Song") with a Dinosaur Jr song ("Freak Scene"), Prince's "When Doves Cry" and Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" from the Batman Forever soundtrack. I make coffee, respond to emails and texts. My mom leaves me a message congratulating me on my win and I think about calling her back when Bowie and I are out for a walk later when the sun comes back out. I feel weird about winning, and I feel awkward when people say nice things about the work to me. How well-earned it is. I don't think I even belong here. I didn't grow up as a writer, I was a grocery store worker who worked in fashion retail briefly before becoming a tradesperson. I'm a journeyman glazier who was briefly also a locksmith. I ran my own contracting company and installed automatic doors for a living. I have all the scars on my body to show you where I've been and all the times the work I've done has left its mark on me. The hospital visits and the tape and paper towel holding wounds back together until they stop bleeding.

I was good at being a glazier, and once I fell off the top of a ladder to the ground 5-ish feet below, my face striking the ladder that had toppled below my once sturdy feet once we both found our final resting place. Once I had a window explode suddenly in my face and I got glass shards on the cornea of my left eye, leaving my vision blurry and suspect for a few days until it cleared up. I was good at this work and this is how I knew it. I tell these stories with a laugh and a little pride in me about how I'm still here to recall them.

The destruction in search of a body.

But now I'm here and I have a career I always secretly dreamed of having, and it doesn't always hurt the same and it feels unearned. There are no scars on my hands from the times the job was hard, even though it is often just that.

I think about The Courtneys some more. I think about Gum Country, the side project that Courtney Garvin released one album with in 2020, which feels a lot like a Courtneys record in that it feels like the sun and the summer and endless possibility. Everything feels calm and tinted in memories I will recall some day in the future.

I put "Tennis (I Feel Ok)" on the playlist.

Somewhere, by Gum Country
12 track album

I know I have real work to do and this is stressful and weighty and my body starts to slump with the pressure of all the things on to-do lists and productivity apps urging me to get my shit together. Remember all the promises you have made and the desire to keep all the boats afloat that you confidently set into the water. I wanted this life and I wanted this career and I have it and I'm scared of losing it and I'm scared of being good at it too because it hasn't hurt me the way that everything else has hurt me and it's scary to think about what it means to not need to hurt the way that I used to.

It's scary to move on from what we've known.

These are the scars maybe. I can feel my body, tired from overwork and tired from lack of sleep and tired from pushing myself but I want to do it all the same, I want to know this work will come together. I want to finish books, I want to go to cities and read from them, talk with people, meet peers and friends and make plans for days in the future I'm no longer afraid of being real.

There's a burning feeling in the shoulder muscle on my right side from stress, and I lay a yoga mat out to stretch and think for a second, before going back to my quest for nothing.

The thing about II by the Courtneys is that it moves through layers of a shared feeling. It's a lot of vibes, to use a word that means nothing and everything. It's a commitment to a shared idea, everything in its place and a place for everything. Guitars that crunch and pop, drums that hit just right and vocals that sparkle and burst like fireworks. It's the perfect kind of record, textured and fresh and warm every time it spins once more.

The song I'm thinking about finds me eventually, idly listening now as I write and plan and prep to get back into the work.

It's time for us to let go, slack off and hit the open road, drivin' down the western sea, the sun it gets higher, higher

The song is about touring, about wanting to stay home and stay hidden where everything is safe and familiar but the need to get out there on the road. To do the work. To push for the thing you know that you want. This is the hard part, this is where the scars form and maybe it's just that scars aren't bad. They're just memories and landmarks.

Once you get out and the world opens up again, the road becomes an invitation to go anywhere and to be anyone when you find your final resting place. This journey and this life isn't easy, it will hurt when you don't want it to and it will maybe never heal. But it will offer you something if you go looking for it, if the desire drives you there and no one deserves to get anything where they're going. But if you do, it's not bad. It connects you to people, to peers and friends. This work connects me to lives I never dreamed possible and I just have to push myself to get up and get out and find them. It's not that I don't deserve it, it's not unearned, it's not that it doesn't hurt sometimes. It just is, it's something I'm lucky to have.

What you are and what you wanna see
Takes a long, long, long, long time
It takes a long time
And I don't wanna be alone