Thursday, March 23, 2017

Now, in Nashville

I was sick for a month and was convinced I was dying. I woke up one morning with a runny nose, and this was all the evidence I needed to substantiate my suspicion that a decade of seasonal smoking and a year of Nashville hot chicken were finally catching up to me. My friends reassured me it was just Tennessee allergies, or the flu, but my anxiety knew the truth: I was happy and in love, so the next logical thing to happen was that my life was going to fall a part, like a twisted Greek tragedy or the American political system. In an attempt to get my affairs in order, for posterity, I deleted any tweets that didn't get at least three re-tweets and I created a YouTube highlight reel of all my best stand up jokes. If I was going to die, I wanted the world to remember me as I was, an obscure female comedian.

It happened like this: I woke up alone one day because my boyfriend was out of town, doing comedy. Normally, I like it when he leaves because I can do things I can't do when he's around, like watch chick flicks or cheat on him. But my favorite thing to do when he's gone is stay up late and play on my phone. I did this all the time when I was single in Toronto, and I like to treat myself to this indulgence now, when he's away, because I feel like it's rude to shine a bright phone screen in his face when he's lying beside, me trying to sleep.  On this particular morning, however, I woke up and my eyes were predictably sore from late night scrolling but my head also felt groggy and I couldn't breath through my nose. It's unfortunate that my mind is super cool like this, but I instantly jumped to the conclusion that I was dying.

The thing that I couldn't stop thinking about was how terribly timed my death was. I'd have to go back to Canada, get free health care, move back in with my dad, which was awful, because my dad doesn't have cable. I'd have to leave my boyfriend, our cute little life in the south and he wouldn't be able to come with me- I wouldn't want him to have to make that choice- so I'd break up with him, crying, please no this will destroy us, let's just walk away now before things get too painful! I imagined it like that Party Of Five episode when the older brother gets cancer and he breaks up with his girlfriend because the stress of the sickness was too much for the relationship, only my breakup would be much more dramatic than that because I'd be sick and have to go through US Customs.

It really broke my heart that I had to leave my boyfriend because I was still in love with him and I figured that losing him would but such a strain on me emotionally that I wouldn't have the will power to beat whatever illness I was fighting. I'd die quickly, from cancer, but mostly heartbreak.  I thought, of course! Of course this is the way my life plays out. I was an emotionally stunted, career-driven woman, but then fell in love, realized that there was more to life than money, fame and Instagram followers, but then just when I become enlightened, boom, ebola strikes. I'd come full circle, all my nine lives were up, I'd learned what I needed to learn, time for me to go, and it made sense, but it still sucked. I was almost comfortable living in America. I mean, I just started saying y'all with out being self conscious about it. It was all so unfair.

My impending death and break up were torturing me. Even if I went to Canada, and I got health care and I went into remission, my boyfriend and I would still not be able to be together because even if we got married I wouldn't be granted a green card because part of getting a green card is a medical examine and I would fail the examine because of my illness.  So my boyfriend and I would have to break up, never be able to be together, torn apart by sickness and my Canadian passport. I would have to quit the entertainment industry and social media because it would be too painful to see everyone continuing on with out me, with their careers, relationships and political opinions. I'd move into a small apartment, somewhere depressing like Barrie, ON, become a recluse and weather the cold Canadian winters alone, a shadow of my former self, not answering phone calls, even if my agent was like, the CBC wants to shoot a pilot with you, I'd be like, no, I don't even know what life is any more, let alone what it means to be Canadian. Even if a new hot guy loved me and wanted to take care of me, I'd be like no, I will only love my ex boyfriend but we can't be together because I'm sick and Canadian and he's an American road comic.

I felt so guilty and angry because my sickness was going to ruin my boyfriends life. He's not like me. He's doesn't worry, he's always happy, he's grateful. He's simple in the best ways. He enjoys life, he's just happy to be alive- which a very hard concept for me to grasp. I started thinking about how after I died, my once sweet, happy boyfriend, after years of sobriety, would start drinking again, he'd become mad at God because once I was gone, it became impossible for him to be or pretend to be happy. In my mind, of course, in our break up, Tinder doesn't exist and my boyfriend has never heard of rebound sex.

I had a headache. For four days I was sneezing and had a runny nose. Then, I felt better, worked a weekend in Chattanooga, didn't sleep much, returned to Nashville, and felt tired again. This cycle repeated itself for a month, with intervals of feeling slightly tired and stuffed up and times when I felt perfectly fine. All during this period, back and forth in my mind, I kept thinking about how I was dying, and I'd have to go back to Canada, and I was going to ruin my boyfriends life, and how when people would talk about me in the future, they would say "It's so sad, what happened to her." or "Hannah lived in Tennessee? Why?"

I didn't want to go down like that, so in a last ditch attempt to get healthy, I made some changes. I stopped eating cupcakes three times a week, started taking vitamins, and drank more water. I went to the gym. I sweated. I stopped checking Facebook. I listened to country music. Conway Twitty. Merle Haggard. Margo Price. These angels lifted me out of my cold, and back into the light of tranquil, anxiety free, sweet tea, living.

I still struggle with sleep, but I try really hard, when my boyfriend is gone, to not stay up on my phone. I attempt to just close my eyes and rest. Sometimes it's easy, and other times I think of remarkable ways that my life is going to implode.  My boyfriend tells me all the time that instead of using my imagination to think of terrible things, use it to think of jokes. I've started doing that, and he was right, it's a much better use of my creativity. He's so sweet. I don't know what I'd do with out him.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Whatever Happened To Hannah Hogan: The Dublin Years

I was sitting in a bar in Dublin with my best friend and my French boyfriend, the first man I ever loved, Joyce. We were drinking Guinness and had just stepped back in from having a cigarette. I smoked Marlboros back then, the European kind, not the America kind. Years later, when I moved to The US, I tried American Marlboros thinking that they would remind me of my Dublin years but they just tasted like regular, terrible cigarettes and didn't bring me back to that magical era, when I lived in Ireland, the time in my life before I started my life.

Joyce was older than me. I felt very sophisticated for snagging him since he spoke broken English but mostly because he was my first real boyfriend. He called me "little girl" and would really enunciate the Lit-TULLLE. At the time I thought it was sweet, because it was, but in retrospect-and probably only because I have a million feminist voices haunting my mind- it seems a little creepy that he called me a child. But Joyce wasn't creepy, he was handsome, he had blue eyes and even though we couldn't really have sex it didn't matter cause my heart was alive even if other things weren't.

This was 2003 when Ireland was deemed one of the best places in the world to live by travel guides and my dad. A handful of people were saying it was a hot spot, so when I decided after high school that I was burnt out and didn't want to go to university and pitched to my Pa that maybe I would go back-packing for a year,  my dear Da suggested Ireland, because we are Irish Canadian and it would be like a return to the motherland. And Ireland was great, I think. I didn't see much of it because I landed in Dublin and for a year and a half, never left the city.

I was 18 when I arrived and the only person I knew was a very contentious Quebec Separatist, let's call him, Le Asshole. We met on a traveling website called Swap, which was a program that helps travelers get hooked up with people and places in the country they are moving to. So I met up with Le Asshole and very quickly I realized he was not the person I wanted to hang out with. He was a French Separatist and I'm sure they are not all assholes, although I haven't met any before or since him, so he is my only gauge. Immediately Le Asshole started talking about politics, which I knew nothing about, especially not boring Canadian referendum politics. He seemed very angry, but I think he just didn't like me and I was probably really difficult to wander the streets with because I was 18 and useless.

He disappointed me the first night when we went to an Irish Pub and after one pint, he wanted to go back to the hostel. I was 18- have I mentioned that?- so I wasn't legal to drink in Canada yet, and since deciding to move to Ireland all I could think about was getting super wasted, like all the time, as much as I could. I literally wanted to drown myself in beer and leprechauns for the entire duration of my two year visa, but this weird frenchie of a separatist dude wanted to have a sensible beer and then go back to our hostel and listen to The Tea Party. YEAH.  Le Asshole's favorite band was the Tea Party and even though I grew up in Peterborough, ON, I knew that that wasn't cool. I have a vivid memory of being on the top bunk in our hostel room and hearing Le Asshole blast Heaven Only Knows so loud that I could hear the lyrics through his ear buds. My escape to Ireland was struggling because I was stuck with literally the worst Canad(ien) ever, so I said au revior to Le Asshole and moved out of that hostel in search of cooler people to be co-dependant on.

I found myself at the cheapest hostel in town where, word on the street, they did drugs! The Chelsea Hotel was just a block away but it was far enough away from Canadian hard rock central, so I was happy. If I could describe my mentality when I first arrived in Dublin it would be: WHO WANTS TO GET DRUNK? I was ready to party and my decision to move hostels was vindicated when I went to the reception desk and a Canadian greeted me. His name was Mike and he was from Toronto.  Mike and I hit it off and he reassured me that this was a "rock and roll" kind of hostel and that there were several long term residents. Later, I discovered Mike and his Polish girlfriend were swingers and that they once tried to hit on some long term residents during a late night stint on ecstasy. But at the time, I was relieved to have a Canadian welcome me to the hostel and excited that it was a bad ass, ready to party kinda place.

I stayed in a dorm room that always had fluctuating guests but there was a core group of us that remained the same. Oz, from Australia, Dave also from Australia, Gail from France, Duffy from England (he got kicked out pretty early on but was still always around because he sold hash). Almira was my best friend and she, like most backpackers one will ever meet, was Australian. I instantly bonded with Almira because we both knew that committing to live in a communal hostel, purely for kicks, drugs and fun was ignoring our better judgment, a decision that would hurt us in the long run, but none the less, we stayed on, deciding we would rectify ourselves from this terrible period in our lives at some later juncture, namely whenever we hit rock bottom or the hostel burned down.

The Chelsea hotel can be summed up in this way: everyone who stayed there said they would one day write a book about it. I don't think any one has, probably since most of us have either gone on drug addiction or parenthood. I have done neither but I am a stand up comedian so I'm too busy with social media to do something as pointless as write a novel.  Some of the more notable things about the Chelsea Hotel was that the showers were common and attached to the toilets, so that when I showered I would smell some European shitting a foot away from me. It was rare when the showers were not clogged with hair. I cleaned myself in two feet deep water and the shaved pubes of four floors of backpackers. It's not that there were not maids at the hostel, it's that the cleaning job was so disgusting, the maids just decided they would not clean the showers until a thorough, toxic clean was done first. So the showers were never cleaned and hundreds of people were showering in their own filth. I don't know why I was surprised when I got the flu five times while living there, at the time, I blamed it on cocaine.

After several months of partying and one New Years eve where I experienced my very first black out, I  decided to quit my coffee shop job and focus on writing poetry. Incredibly, my stay at the hostel was where I first started reading for enjoyment. This is before smart phones and there was no TV in the hostel so I needed something to do in between rolling tobacco and doing MDMA. Inspired by the books I was reading, namely "Woman who Run with Wolves" I started writing a lot, like the real coming of age, broken flower that I was.  I'd walk along the River Liffey, pretending I was Oscar Wilde or Bono, writing about everything and nothing, that is to say, I wrote about my feelings.

Money began to dwindle and I didn't feel like emailing my dad. Again, I was 18 and while I did have a phone it was expensive to call Canada so my communication with friends and family was relegated to email. Catch is, I didn't want to talk to family or friends, that was the whole reason I moved away, so I very rarely talked to anyone and I liked it like that. But because I was broke and needed a job, Mike offered me the day time receptionist position at the Chelsea. It was a 12 hour shift and I was responsible for booking guests and making sure other guests checked out on time. It was an easy job and I mostly spent it listening to Neil Young and smoking hash.

The most eventful thing that happened when I was the receptionist is that I discovered a dead body. It was my first, and so far, my last discovery of a dead human. It happened this way: a fellow who had checked in with the night receptionist had failed to check out during my shift. I knocked on his door, no one answered. I got the skeleton key, walked into the room and discovered a limp, very dead body on the bed. I don't really remember what happened next because I've told this story so many times I have definitely exaggerated the details, (I may even be making the entire thing up right now.) I can't say for sure, but from what I remember, the Garda told me that the man died of an over-dose. Needless to say, from that point on, I always had a great story to tell at the pub.

After eight months sharing a dorm with people having sex in the bed below me, showering in filth and finding a dead body, I determined it was time to leave The Chelsea Hotel. Almira and I collectively got our shit together and moved into a flat on the other side of town and that marked the end of my rock roll hostel life and the beginning of my more peaceful time in Dublin.

I got a job at Haagen Dazs. My boss was a sexy French man named Joyce and right away I was totally, madly, stupidly into him. I was very excited to be falling for him because before our lives collided, I had come to the sad conclusion that I was never going to fall in love. I'd had boyfriends, but I didn't really like them or at least I didn't like having sex with them and at the time that was what I thought love was (and still do, I guess). I was sure there was something wrong with me genetically, that that was why being in love was never going to happen for me. I tried dating a girl in Ireland, her name was Moira, and given her name and her sex, I just could get into it. I was so upset about not being able to fall in love.  I thought I was some kind of asexual failure, a pretty girl sure, but heartless and empty.  I could have been a character in the Wizard of Oz, The Scare Crow, The Lion, The Tin Man and the Canadian; just looking for their lost pieces to be whole again. So yeah, that's where I was at, and drying out from partying, when I met Joyce.

Joyce told me later that he didn't think I was very pretty until I started wearing make up (a calculated move on my part and one that taught me a valuable lesson: always wear make up when trying to trick a man into loving you). I had an enormous crush on him for a few weeks, he asked me out and when we kissed at the end of the night it was the only time in my life that a single kiss swept me away in such a stupidly cliche manner I shan't ever forget it! I was in love! It felt so amazing! To want this person so much, but more than anything, I was just thrilled to discover I could love. Just weeks before I thought I was either dead inside or a lesbian. Things can change so fast!

Mine and Almira's lease came up and in retrospect, this was totally a shitty move but I moved in with Joyce and for some reason didn't think that I needed to pay rent. He lived with six other people and I just stayed in his room, rent free, eating scones. I quit my Haagen Dazs job to focus on my true vocation: poetry. After all, I was in love and now I had a muse and it was imperative that I explore the various ways love was now fundamentally inspiring and changing me.  I wasn't doing drugs any more- I never would do hard drugs again- and I was only drinking occasionally and of course still smoking lots of cigarettes because my boyfriend was French so duh.

Everything was wonderful. Almira and I had escaped the dark hole of the Chelsea Hostel, I was in love and my little soul felt alive which was nice cause I hadn't felt good for a long time. I even started emailing my dad and friends again, mostly to brag about my cool, new French boyfriend and the European trip we were planning.

So there we were, Me, Almira and Joyce, sitting in a Dublin bar, enjoying life and a pint when it suddenly hit me: holy shit, I am in Ireland. WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING IN IRLEAND?! I looked at Joyce and I felt so happy to be in love with this guy, but at the same time, inspired by him to begin my own life. He was living in Ireland to improve his English so he could go on to be a business man (it was more complex than that but his English wasn't great so that's what I took from his blathering).  I felt for the first time this need to do something with my life. Joyce made me want to be a better woman, it sounds corny, but that's why love is love, it's tres corny.

I quietly decided, sitting in the bar that day, that it was time for me to go home. I had another year on my visa but I didn't want to use it. I wanted to go home and start my life. I didn't know what that meant and I didn't even know what I wanted to do with my supposed life but I knew I wanted to go home, and begin my life, even if that meant I had to leave Joyce.

After I told Joyce what I wanted to do, he was very supportive- did I mention he was wonderful and  we were in love!? Before I went home, Joyce and I took a trip to Europe together and other than when I got mono in Austria, we had a blast. We went to Paris, Prague, Vienna and my favorite Budapest. We smoked cigarettes, drank wine, told each other we loved each other and I wrote a bunch of poems. It was perfect.

A week after we returned to Dublin, I got on a flight to meet my Dad in England and Joyce went back to France. We did see each other again, but it wasn't the same. I was back in Canada and I didn't love him any more. By that time I had a new love, acting. It turns out, I was fully capable of lusty, six month love affairs, but long term committed relationships were still a ways down the road for me. I probably broke his heart, but he was too annoyed to be working in Sears in the Eaton's Center in Toronto to think about what an asshole I was.  He ended up moving to Guatemala and got a girl pregnant, so in the end every thing worked out because I was living my dream as an actress and he learned to procreate. C'est La Vie!