Backstage blog Vol. 9: A chipped nail

10:15pm. Sherbrooke west, NDG. "Do you know the way to the metro?"

5 minutes later. "I'm learning to listen, and to be heard, it's important to have real connections with people in life."

"So what do you do?.....no...sorry, what is something you enjoy doing? That's a better question."

35 minutes later, Plateau du Mont-Royal. "It's not unusual for me to talk with strangers, but this has been different."

"Thank you so much for this, this was special."

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Sunday morning. 8:33am. St Laurent Boulevard. Plastic cups clopping like horses' hooves on the pavement. "Saucisses chaudes" written in the snow on the sidewalk.

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Early March. Parc Jeanne Mance. A three day warm spell hovering between -2 and +3 degrees celsius. Just enough snow has melted to expose about 20 feet of gravel path. A dozen friends are out taking advantage of the conditions to play Petonc.

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August. Lachine canal. 5:40pm. Ice cream cones bouncing up and down in the hands of children dancing to the music.


I've been thinking lately how I'm going to miss this city - Montreal - when I move away this summer. What does it mean to miss something?

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All of these images that I opened this blog with I could say are things that, immediately after experiencing them, I missed. The thought, "This was special", so often makes me also think "but why is it over? I want to experience it again!" Maybe I will, maybe I won't, it sure was good though and is good to think about.

The hardest things to have disappear are people. "I'm learning to listen." I'm learning to appreciate. "I'm learning to be heard" I'm learning to take part. Even if hundreds or even thousands of people pass by you everyday, if  just one of them is someone you can look at and say something to, and then if that person says something back and you listen, it suddenly makes up for any missed experiences of that day. And when that interaction is over...well, it's over. Right?

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Saturday night, the big night out, the big party. Sometimes when I'm walking home on Saturday evening I intentionally avoid walking down St Laurent boulevard because it's crowded and noisy and smelly. Then again, sometimes I don't avoid, sometimes I want to experience it. At some point later on though, before the sun rises, everyone disappears. They go back home, the parties are all over.

Sunday morning. It's quiet. Correction: almost quiet. Last's nights' revellers didn't leave with out a trace. clop, clop, clop. My first thought, "Wow where's the horse?" second thought "Have I travelled back in time?" third thought "No, silly, but that nice noise is that plastic cup rolling around down the street." Trash it may be, and yes don't get me wrong, you should put your trash in the bin! (Take care of our planet please.) Trash it is. It is also an impression of last night, part of the who, the what. It's the aftermath, the St Laurent hangover, call it what you will, it's many things.

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Montreal. It has this vibrant tenacity. "Yes it may not be warm by summer's standards, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to go outside and play." Let's have an all-night festival in February! Weather doesn't stop the flow of energy here. Even though there are extreme seasons. Winter is fine, it's cold, whatever, but then there are these two seasons that somewhat encircle it of brown slush, gravel and grey snow. You'd think everyone would just give up. But one of the days in these seasons is going to be beautiful and cloudless, and everyone seems to know that it will the moment to act and to enjoy themselves, and well if it that day takes too long to arrive, there seems to be this collective decision to "just go out anyways". If enough people have walked the same path through the park eventually the footprints in the snow will make a path that is easy to walk. I experience this in my daily commute through the park in the winter time. In the beginning the going is tough, but amazingly it gets easier. And then another big snowfall comes and we start again.

Summer really does come along eventually (along with the terrasses), and it's a big, crazy, colourful, childish, enthusiastic dance.

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So about that thought. "why is it over? I want to experience it again!" Sometimes I can do something again. I could cook a meal for myself, enjoy it, and make it again tomorrow if I like. What if that's not an option: I met this person once in the evening, on the street, at a party, and an hour or so later we parted ways: I practiced outdoors in the park and met some musicians passing by who joined me for a while.

In a way I experience these things over and over again. Not in their entirety, although sometimes in a similar way. These moments leave their mark on me, a little cup rolling down my boulevard. These moments are so pure because they can be nothing but themselves, since I can never possibly hope to recreate them exactly as they were, I won't, and I will always wonder at them.


I chipped my middle finger nail last week.

If you are, know, have talked to, or are interested in a classical guitarist, you're most certainly aware of the importance of finger nails.

I like to think that my finger nails are the most perfect part of my body. Carefully shaped, maintained and used for the purpose of creating the ideal sound from my instrument. Years have been dedicated to discovering the right shape, finding the right materials to care for them and learning how to go about daily life without breaking them. And then. Somehow. As always. One of them gets chipped. What a pain!! I used fake nails full time for quite a while as a solution to this problem, but I have come to appreciate the sound of real nails more (even if the difference is subtle). Of course if I'm in a pinch I will put on a fake, but I have just under two weeks til my next performance. Is it enough time for it to grow long enough that I can cut out the chip? What's more, can I bear to hear myself practice and play with a less than perfect sound? Does this inhibit me?? Oh, the torment!

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I know, I know. You're wondering, "what on earth does this have to do with what he was talking about before?" Experiences sure can give you good memories, and make you happy, but they certainly can't magically repair a broken nail. ....What a shame hey?

Here's what I've been pondering though. I miss having a beautiful conversation with a stranger. I miss my childhood home. I will miss the city of Montreal. I miss having an unbroken nail. Are these all the same? What does it mean to miss something?

In the case of my nail, I am upset and I want the good nail back, and I will have that given time. But these other things. Are they things that I can really have back? I've actually talked about this before in my Lost Islands Blog

Maybe I need to stop stressing about the state of my nail, but it is driving me crazy, every time I look at my hand I see this imperfection! There is no room for broken nails on my hand!

There might be room however, when it comes to what I experience in life. If I chose one of those little things that touched me and decided to dedicate all my energy to keeping it that way and to reliving it, I could very well become oblivious to everything else that is waiting to leave an impression on me, or for me to leave a mark on it. 

I have to learn how to listen, and how to be heard.

So Montreal, I will continue living in you for the next four months, then I leave and maybe one day I will return, but for me you will always be a beautiful chipped fingernail. The impossible maybe, certainly I think that is fitting. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I love your chipped-ness.


What are some things you love about where you live? Or are there moments that you wish you could relive? When was the last time you broke a fingernail? 

Let me know in a comment or a email me at jonathan@jonathanstuchbery.com

Until next week!

1 comment

  • Barb

    Barb Kaleden, BC

    Grasslands. Sagebrush. Mariposa lilies. Beaches. Lakes. Burrowing Owls. Rattlesnakes. Bears. These are some of the things I love about where I live. I remember when you quit rugby in grade 9 (or thereabouts) to pursue music seriously. You were concerned about hurting your hands or breaking a nail. That moment, in my mind, is when you set off on the journey that took you to McGill, and now to France - and beyond! Congratulations on your graduation Jonathan!! <3 And thank you for your music -- it is so beautiful!

    Grasslands. Sagebrush. Mariposa lilies. Beaches. Lakes. Burrowing Owls. Rattlesnakes. Bears. These are some of the things I love about where I live. I remember when you quit rugby in grade 9 (or thereabouts) to pursue music seriously. You were concerned about hurting your hands or breaking a nail. That moment, in my mind, is when you set off on the journey that took you to McGill, and now to France - and beyond!

    Congratulations on your graduation Jonathan!! <3

    And thank you for your music -- it is so beautiful!

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