Waking Up, Sweet And Happy
My friend Tristane Penelope Nelson dreams. She used to tell me about her lucid flying dreams. More recently, she’s been dreaming about her dead sister.
I can still see a round clearing in a crowded dance floor at an illegal warehouse party in Vancouver in February 1998. There was a girl dancing in the centre of the circle. Everyone was in awe of her. I was 17 and she was 15. That was the first time I saw Tristane and I’ve been in awe of her ever since. In September 1998 Tristane’s older sister Julia moved into my dorm. I was a lonely, asocial misfit with ugly glasses and bad teeth falling asleep in math and computer science classes. They were intimidatingly cool and charismatic sisters with great style and wit. Julia was in religious studies. Julia lent me zines and speed garage mixtapes and we made out at the dorm Christmas dance (and it was a scandal). She sold me her Laramies for $10 when I couldn’t afford clothes. We hosted a Riot Grrl radio show together and I was so scared I could barely speak while we were on air. We ate mushrooms and when the dorm counsellor walked by with propane tanks she asked if he was going scuba diving: No, we’re having a barbecue. We got into minimal techno and we stayed up late. Tristane came over the day after parties and we did laundry and danced in the laundry room. Later, Julia made lists of books for me to read, sent from her email address where her name field was filled as love, sewing with nancy. I was in love with Julia in a way, but it was unrequited. After I graduated, Tristane taught me to stop wearing hoop earrings with wireframe glasses. I learned how to dress and how to cut my hair from Tristane. We slept off hangovers on the beach. We saw on Friendster that a friend of ours would be at a Les Georges Leningrad show 14 hours away and we spontaneously surprised her. We arrived at the show before it started, fell asleep on a bench, and woke up to our friend shaking us awake. The surprise worked. Our friendship deepened. Someone yelled at us on the street once, it’s Paris and Nicole! I don’t think I ever would have ended up in Montreal if Julia hadn’t lived there first and described it to me through her eyes. Once I was there, Tristane and I would fly to meet for misadventures in New York or New Orleans or Montreal or Vancouver. On one trip to New York I realized that Tristane and Julia were my role models and these trips were my church. On one visit to Vancouver Julia was inexplicably in intense pain. And then one day shortly afterward, Tristane phoned me. It was late in Montreal and I was drunk in a little bar with one of my many drunk boyfriends. Tristane told me Julia had leukaemia.
In Tristane’s words this is what happened next: Our world turned upside-down when my sister Julia Nelson was diagnosed with leukaemia. She died 6 months later. During those 6 months my relationship with my first husband fell apart. My mom’s breast cancer returned a year after that, and she passed away. Even the dog died of cancer, slowly, as I followed my new husband to a football town in Texas from Vancouver, Canada. Our first year in Texas would begin and end with tubal pregnancies and the eventual loss of my fallopian tubes. In the middle of those dark times I started recording my dreams, mostly about Julia, on a Twitter feed.
I flew to Vancouver for Julia’s death. My mother had died of cancer when she was Julia’s age—when I was six. I realized that part of my affection for Julia was that she reminded me of my mother. The next year I was also diagnosed with cancer. Do bad things happen in threes? I wondered. But mine turned out to be minor. Very minor. A very small, earliest stage, lowest grade tumour in my bladder that hasn’t recurred. I can feel the scar when I drink something too acidic. I don’t know why I’m here and they aren’t.
But Julia’s death was the first of what would be a series of deaths for Tristane. Julia, Tristane’s marriage, her mother, her dog, her pregnancies. Nightmare upon nightmare. Bad things happen in multitudes.
Tristane and I found ourselves both starting new lives at the same time. I was flying around, refusing to come down, living out of hotel rooms, and Tristane was building a new home in a small town in Trump country. We were both lonely. We were both examining our vulnerabilities in ways that made people worry about us. Tristane has taught me plenty of things but one of the most profound things she has taught me is to look into the abyss. From my perspective it looks like Tristane has been able to rise through hell upon hell by having the courage and the honesty to look at life and to see it for what it is and to accept how wrecked it can be, how shattered, and from there move forward, with clarity and vision and not with false cheer. With the bravery that is realism. Tristane pushes me to journal when I’m avoiding it. Tristane pushes me to jog when I’m avoiding it. I feel Tristane looking at me the way she looks at life, without delusion, and it gives me the strength I have needed to tear my life completely apart and keep tearing it apart until I was honestly, really ready to weave it back together. I had to know my dreams before I could weave myself back together.
Tristane taught me that Rilke said: Surely all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, to where no one can go any further.
Tristane said to me the other day, I love waking up, even in the middle of the night (like when I wake up and fall asleep again quickly) because my body feels sweet and happy. Tristane made a series of collages from her Tweets of her dreams of Julia. I recommend listening to Max Cooper & Tom Hodge’s Fragments of Self as you look through them. Tristane listened to this track on repeat around the time of Julia's death. Looking at Julia through Tristane’s open eyes, I see life differently. Dreams and waking moments are superimposed and truth is both the most horrific and the sweetest, happiest thing of all. It has to be. Thank you, Tristane, for sharing your radiance with me.
(Tristane and Brie have been working on a game concept together at TRU LUV. The working title is Little Pink Sink.)