My Watershed Moment

Is it normal to be able to pinpoint your turning point? A pivotal, traumatic, life-changing thing that comes out of nowhere and just fucks up your entire world?

I didn’t realize mine right away. Well…I’ve had several. But this one, the one that’s been heaviest lately, took me a few months to really understand.

It was so momentous and terrible and heartbreaking, and the effects haven’t stopped. It’s been almost two years.

I was trying to figure out why and when my life changed. It was confusing because it was such a huge change, and yet in so many ways it took me weeks to really realize the extent of the damage. Shock, probably. Shock does incredible things to a person. It can make you numb; it can make your entire body ache. It can save your life or it make you wish yours would stop. It is deafening, in its loudness and in its silence.

I lost my very best friend almost two years ago. Of course I knew my life would be forever changed, but there are certain changes that I didn’t see coming. The first month was the shock. I didn’t understand how I was still breathing. Why was I still alive? His heart stopped beating and he left this world for a new one…and he took mine with him. So how was it still beating in my chest? I wanted to go with him. Such a huge part of me wanted that so badly. But beside me, on the floor in her car seat, slept my two-month-old daughter. If not for her, I fully believe I wouldn’t still be here.

I knew he was getting old; he would leave me soon. Had he held on just to make sure I’d be okay? Had he waited for my baby to arrive, let me watch him love her; gave me those memories to hold onto…and then decided it was time?

Sometimes there is so much pain everything single thing, that I wish I could just sleep and not have to feeling it all the time. Not even just my own pains, but the world’s. Everything is getting more and more fucked up; there are people and animals suffering–brutal suffering–and no one is coming to their rescue.

This eats at me.

This new pain, the loss of half of my heart, grasped onto me like an invisible vise. The lungs that I secretly wished would just give out were instead inflated with the heaviest air. My skin hurt. My body ached. My shoulders could not stay back; the posture of an ancient woman in her last days. I was sinking into nothing.

I could not cry hard enough to make it lighten. I couldn’t breathe deep enough to flush out the weight in my chest. I had nothing to say. How do you speak when everything in you is busy feeling? Feeling devastated and angry and empty? There are no words to describe that desolation. You just…survive. Even when part of you doesn’t want to.

If I hadn’t had my daughter, that pain would have engulfed me whole. My scarred wrists would have throbbed with the longing to be opened. My full heart would have burst. My throat would have closed off, allowing neither liquid nor solid to pass through.

I lost such a huge part of myself that night. The piece that left with Him was filled in with a darkness that I still haven’t found how to brighten. Memory is the most powerful thing my brain can do.

I find it so ironic that most painful thing in life is love. Love is so all-encompassing. Why would it not leave a hole the same size when it leaves?

I am forever changed, because of grief. It’s addled me over the years, through the blackness of my childhood and into the instability of teaching myself how to live; how to let people in. (I still suck at this; about as useful as screen doors on a submarine.)

His passing caused me to turn further inwards. Not turning away from my daughter, but from everyone else. Grief is not something that can be shared. You can try to understand and try to be there for people and offer your love, your support, your casseroles. But ultimately, we are alone. We feel alone. We suffer alone. I was taught that from a very young age. Help does not come, even when you ask. Until you learn how to help yourself.

Maybe things get better from here. Maybe blackness lessens and learns to take in some light. I’ll wait.

My watershed moment is having lasting effects. I can see it making cracks in everything I thought was solid. I can see the possibility of losing certain things; certain people. It’s there, unless I find a way around this.

I’m asking myself to learn to breathe with water in my lungs.

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Curiosity CAT Scan

I feel like my brain is taking on some undesirable qualities. It’s becoming mushy and slack and underused. Under-appreciated.

What was the last thing I really wondered about? How can I answer that when I feel like all I do is wonder. All day, my mind is just wandering. I daydream in colour and it’s on 24/7. I wonder what it would be like to be any of the things I used to think I’d be by the time I was 30. A paleontologist, digging in Turkey; a surgeon, probably cardio; a makeup artist, helping people become the one thing I was so obsessed with during my teenage years. I wanted to be a vet for awhile, but seeing animals sick and/or dying is enough to make me ugly-cry and run for privacy so no one sees the tears.

I guess one thing I’ve always had is my love for writing. I started reading novels at six years old and was writing stories soon after. I’ve always written. It’s kept me sane, it’s kept me safe, and it’s kept me here.

I wonder all the time what kind of adult I would have grown up to be if I’d had someone, just one person, who gave a shit about my future, when I was little. Someone to push me, past limits and into the mysterious world of Full Potential. Someone to be impressed by my report cards and be proud. No one was there, so eventually I stopped caring. I could live on the honour roll, but what was the point if no one cared?

I wish I knew then that it matters that I cared. I should have done it for me. I should have been the super nerd that I am and gone for the scholarships and the medical degree and the studying abroad. I once downloaded an application for Oxford, when I was 17. My dreams were loftier back then, but also simpler. I just wanted to make it out of my childhood alive. I wanted to look back and be in a new place. I wanted to be happy. My only goal, even after stopping the effort, was to be happy.

I need something, so I’m doing this course.

I’m sure I’ve felt that “creative flow” plenty of times, though maybe less so in the last year or so. I had a baby. My life became busy and hectic and my brain got used to zombie-mode. But she’s almost 18 months and I’m aching for something to stimulate my brain that doesn’t involve Sophie the Giraffe or My Little Ponies or walking up the stairs 19 times in a row. (Not that I don’t love doing those things with her–I do. I just need something more.)

I need to feel alive and vital and vivacious and effervescent. I need to feel like a whole person. I need the parts of me that used to make me feel passionate. Where is my passion? Where is my bliss? I’m not sure. But I need to start somewhere; start following these little scavenger hunts.

Actually, maybe the last time I did that was when I decided I wanted to know every country and capital in the world, by memory. So I did. I wrote them down over and over, I played quizzes on Sporcle to test myself. And now I don’t need more than a second to tell you that the capital of Bahrain is Manama, or that Nauru doesn’t have an official capital but Yaren is the largest settlement and the seat of parliament. I love that shit. I love geography. I’m such a nerd for it. I still open up Sporcle and see how quickly I can name all of the capitals. Nerd alert, right here. I’m okay with it.

I hate answering questions about what I liked when I was little, or what my favourite memory is. I can’t answer these. My childhood was dark and cold and unbearable. My memories are of that. I can remember fun days…Christmas at my uncle’s house or vacations with my cousins. Any happy memories are never of my immediate “family.” Anything happy needs to absence of my “parents” to be considered so.

The last passage from  a book, piece of music, or work of art that inspired me? The Book Thief was the most eloquent, artful book I’ve read in awhile. Endless sentences from that story just melted like butter on the paper and soaked into my skin. I can read it over and over again, and Zusak just makes all of my writing bubbles fizz furiously. He is amazing.

I’ve always loved Vonnegut’s quote, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” It’s always been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Who doesn’t long for that kind of living, after spending so long in the dark? Words and writing are like light for me. They’ve kept me going and nourished me when I was starving. They’ve been the greatest company.

I think I prefer being alone so much because the world I can create in my own head is preferable to the one we live in.

This post is all over the place because I’m trying to answer the questions…. What would I do for a living if I were not afraid of anything? I’d shove my writing in the faces of anyone who would read it. I’d go back to school and become a surgeon. I’d take the part-time makeup course, just because I think it’s fun. And shit, maybe I could get a job doing that which could get me in touch with the right people…who I would try and shove my writing in front of.

I do not want fame. I never have. I think it looks horrible. I don’t want everyone to know my face or be watching for me. I’d love to be known for my work, in my field, but never in front of the camera. Never in the spotlight.

I want to skulk in the dim lighting behind it all like the introverted creep that I am. I like to observe. I need solitude. It became my entire life; I lived in my bedroom to escape the rest of the house. But I still crave love and affection; I would love to have a mom. To be adored like that. But some things, I’ve learned, you have to create for yourself. So I be the best mother I can be to my baby, and I try to change my inner voice from the one drilled into my skull by my “mother,” and I try to treat myself that way I treat my daughter. How could I look at her and see anything but beauty and love and perfection? How can any mother deny their child unconditional support and love? Fuck if I know, but ask mine. She is excellent at it.

Flourish in the Dark

I don’t know why this sentence floating into my head tonight. Probably because I wanted to fall asleep, and when I feel that need to sleep, my brain feels the need to keep me awake and poke at me to go write something.

Why can’t my brain be a normal brain that does normal things?

Anyway, I was thinking about this synopsis/intro/biography I had to write for a writing submission. I wanted to explain why my story was different from someone else’s. Not better…just different. Because who am I to say if my script is better than yours? I am probably actually literally the last person who would do that. I’m not saying I have no confidence, but it’s…camera shy.

I’m not better than anyone. In my hopes, I’m clinging to average but in reality, I’m probably kind of a lazy asshole. Underachieving should be written on my name tag, right under my name. Like at the theatre when people who work there have their favourite movie underneath their name. Mine would just have that disclaimer: UNDERACHIEVER. But I mean, honesty, right?

Anyway, I was trying to explain why a person should take the time to read my submission. What makes me stand out? It came to me that something someone told me once, might have some real truth to it. It’s hard for me to take a compliment and wear it like a badge of honour. I feel weird, like I’m bragging? And I don’t brag. I don’t think I’m hot shit, okay? I think that much is obvious. But as far as standing out goes…I think maybe I do.

I grew up under a storm cloud. Not the cute kind like that kid from Charlie Brown. A real, dark, all-encompassing storm cloud. My mentally-ill mother had the ability to bring everyone down with her into her cruel abyss. She used to joke about that phrase, “If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.” But she completely lived that. It was her motto. Her slogan. She should have it tattooed on her somewhere. (Except she’s cut everyone out of her life so she actually has no kids anymore, so is she still a mama? She was never a “mama.”)

Mix up mostly narcissistic personality disorder with some borderline personality and a weird, rare dollop of less-cold (not warm–just not cold) and you’d have my mother. She is a psychiatrist’s dream, I’m sure. If she’d ever be honest enough to tell the truth. She has a way of being really nice to outsiders. Anyone who wasn’t related was considered worthy of getting Nice Molly (name changed). Nice Molly laughed and smiled and years later when my friends found out what my life was really like, some of them were floored. What’s the psychological term for someone who smiles at your friends and then tells you she hates you as soon as their back is turned?

She created a tense, negative, black atmosphere in which I and my siblings grew up. There was no warmth, no sunlight, to bask in and grow in. There was no nurturing. Instead, I was raised in the darkness. I developed a dark, dry sense of humour early on. Maybe I realized very early that I needed something to laugh at, so I laughed when I could. Is that how dry, dark senses of humour are born?

I took this dry humour and I lived off of it. I could be starving myself, bleeding, crying, eyeing a bottle of painkillers, and I’d smirk at the fact that whoever found me in my room would think what a pervert I was for the amount of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet posters on my walls. (Titanic ran my life for many years.)

In all of that darkness, never knowing when my mother might explode and unleash her wrath on me, I found a way to survive. I found a way to breathe underwater; to flourish in the dark.

No, I would never be sunshine personified. I would never be Mary Poppins-esque and strut around with a smile on my face. (Who THE FUCK smiles all the time? And what for?) But somewhere in the deep depression I found a flicker. I developed an appreciation for satire and humour. I focused on words and paper and my own hand, reaching the gloomy depths of my mind and letting it flow onto paper. Journals upon journals…. Almost all of these I burnt, after finding out that my mother was reading my diaries. My sister stopped keeping a diary altogether. I just burnt mine, or hid them better. Sure I’d keep that hideous pink thing with the lock on it, under my mattress like a good little stereotype. But my real shit was written in a spiral notebook, identical to the ones holding my poor math skills and other homework. I learned that fast.

At least it took her until I was 23 for her to find that out. I had many years of writing in privacy. I think…

But writing and reading and humour are what helped me flourish. Some days I really can’t believe that I’m still alive. If I had to redo any of those years living under the same roof as my mother, I would die. I could not do that again. I haven’t even spoken to her in seven years, and I still have sweaty, panicky dreams where I’m forced to live with her. That shit is worse than any nightmare I’ve ever had.

Her long fingers of fear and depression and utter bleakness are far reaching and powerful. Still. Years later.

I have a hard time believing in “God,” but I am thankful, to whoever, that I had those things: eyes to read, a hand to write, and a dark and twisty sense of humour to feed.

I may not fit into the mold; I’m no sunflower. But I managed to flourish anyways, in hostile darkness.

 

Grief

There are so many things in life that I imagined going a certain way. Good things, and bad things. They way they play out always makes me thing of that phrase about people making plans and god laughing about it. But I don’t believe in god, so…who exactly is laughing? Somedays it feels like the entire universe is.

When I was 21 I got an English bulldog. I fell for that little guy hard and fast, and was just a pile of mush for him. Naming him was hard, so I wrote a bunch of ideas on scraps of paper and then let him decide which three to try to eat. There were probably 10 altogether. He chose three; then I put those three on the floor and let him pick one; then I did that again. He picked Tank the two last times, out of the three choices. So he was meant to be Tank.

He was without a doubt the most perfect dog ever. I think he maybe had one accident in the house, and then he picked up house-training really quickly. I was in college at the time so I was only gone for maybe three hours a day for classes. All of my time was devoted to Tank. Friends just expected me to have him with me if I was coming over–this continued for his entire life. Tank was my constant sidekick. As long as he was allowed somewhere, he went. Except for grocery stores and school or whatever. And being away from him was hard for me.

We bonded so quickly and so solidly. He was a dream. I had a boyfriend at the time who tried to take Tank when we broke up, so I actually had to go and stake out the apartment we’d shared, so I could wait for him to get home and then get Tank back. This ex had such a shit-eating grin on his face, thinking he’d gotten away with stealing my dog. He stood outside his car like he owned the world. I wasn’t going to give up on Tank. He was mine.

You can have a family dog, or a dog with a couple, or whatever, but a dog bonds solidly to one person. He can love an entire family; he can love both of his owners, but he is bound to one person wholly. Tank and I were soulmates.

So this ex drives up, I stand behind the car so he can’t leave, and he gets out with the stupid grin on his face, blah blah blah. Tank is in the backseat of the car, tapping at the window with his paw because he’s so excited to see me. It was locked, but during the conversation where I told this ex that he couldn’t just take him, he unlocked the door while he was fiddling with his keys. My move was reflex–I just yanked the handle as soon as I heard the click. Tank came leaping out to see me, and the ex tried to push me away from Tank. Luckily my brother was there and when the ex saw him, he backed off immediately. I picked up my 50-pound baby and ran.

When I think back on that night, I am still so incredibly grateful that I got Tank back. I wouldn’t have stopped trying, but that night was such a fluke. He was just over a year old at the time, and so began our life, just us.

To say that everyone loved Tank would be an understatement. People adored him. He was so happy and so friendly, and he loved other animals and babies. He was gentle and sweet, and I never understood how some people would see his handsome face and avoid him as though he was about to lunge. Tank never hurt anyone.

We were attached in a storybook kind of way. I never used a leash, or even a collar, on Tank. He was at attention if I so much as snapped my fingers or simply said his name. You know that quote about how to you, your dog may be part of your world, but to your dog, you are the world? Tank and I were each other’s world.

I was the person who skipped parties and going out, so I could hang out with my dog. I threw him birthday parties, where we invited friends and other dogs, and bought liver pate cakes. If I ever suspected something was wrong, we went right to the vet. When he slipped a disc in his back he didn’t make a sound. The only way I knew something was up was when we went to get in the car and he just looked at me, and wouldn’t raise his front to get in. He never “cried.” Not even when he tore his ACL.

Tank and I lived in 11 places during our nine years together. I was a college student, I was broke, and sometimes it was hard to find a place to live that would allow dogs. I never once considered letting someone else take care of Tank. He was mine. My responsibility and my best friend. We moved a lot, but we always had each other.

There were times I couldn’t afford groceries and Tank’s food, so I would just eat at work or not at all. I didn’t have a bed for awhile, so we both slept on his giant bed. He was very generous like that.

His entire life, people complimented Tank’s behaviour. They’d never seen such a well-behaved dog, and they’d never seen a bond like ours. It was the greatest compliment to me. I was so proud of him. I still am. I’ll always be proud of him.

When he was about seven, he started slowing down. Our dog park dates were a little shorter, and our weekend sleep-ins were a little longer. That guy knew how to relax. As time went on, he slowed down more and more.

I knew Tank wouldn’t be around forever, but I didn’t like to think about it. There was a time where I fully believed that if anything happened to him, that I would die too. He was my reason for living. I’d grown up in a terrible home, I was always alone, and I never trusted people. Tank was my everything. The idea of losing him made my eyes tear up immediately. It made me panic. When I thought he was going to be taken from me, by the idiot ex, I had a panic attack and, for the first time, hyperventilated. I actually thought I was having a heart attack and would die.

My 20s were a tumultuous time. Depression and anxiety ran my life, and there were times I definitely felt like giving up. I just wanted to die and not feel the way I felt. It wasn’t just a temporary thing–I’ve been dealing with dark shit like that since I was 11 years old. Into my 20s, I was feeling really weak. I was alone, except for my sister, but even back then we weren’t as close as we are now. I still felt very alone, except for Tank.

There were a couple of times where I came very close to ending the pain I felt. The only thing that stopped me, was the idea that Tank would be devastated. He wouldn’t understand. He wouldn’t know where I’d gone. He’d be waiting for me, and he’d be miserable. That thought broke my heart even more, but it was enough to keep me around. I stayed for him.

As Tank slowed down, my life also seemed to get a little less chaotic. I moved in with my boyfriend; he fell in love with Tank. His entire family did. We finally had the kind of stability that I’d been afraid of never having. I didn’t have to be scared about wondering where we were going to live next month.

When I was 16, a doctor told me I’d never have children. He said my endometriosis was too severe. I’d need surgery and hormone therapy. So my plan was just to have dogs. All the dogs! But when Tank was eight, I found out I was pregnant. A little miracle baby had taken up residence in my body. I had a rough pregnancy and spent a lot of time at home, resting. This meant that I got to spend all of my days with Tank. But he was old. He couldn’t even walk with me to the mailbox anymore.

Somedays he’d be sleeping on the bed and I’d go and lay beside him, burying my face in his chest fur. I never wanted to forget that smell. I loved his popcorn feet and his squishy face. I knew he wouldn’t last forever, but in my mind he was going to live at least 12 years. That’s almost unheard of for bulldogs, but as scared as I was, I told myself that. Twelve years.

When my daughter was born, it was an amazing experience. I had to stay in the hospital afterwards, so Tank spent time with his grandma. I missed so much. I never left him if I could help it. A week-long vacation was always too long for me, so even three days in the hospital sucked.

When my mother-in-law brought him over the day I got home, he was so excited. We both were. He knew, instinctively, to be gentle. Dogs can always smell that hospital smell, y’know? He was careful as he jumped onto the couch to see me, his little bulldog bum wiggling so happily. I pressed my face into his neck. I breathed him in. More and more, I’d been feeling like his time was waning. But I was stubborn and made myself snuggle him longer and say to myself to he was going to live until 12.

I’d always wanted to make one of those salt-dough paw print ornaments. It was June but I felt like I just needed to do it. Now, rather than later. So one hot day, we did it. He was reluctant, but let me press his paw into the dough before he went for another nap.

The day before his ninth birthday, we spent most of the day outside. He was like a little old man who loved to sit on his porch and watch people. Sometimes he’d give a little “arf.” If someone we knew walked by, he’d get up to greet them. Our neighbours loved him. He always got a “hello” when someone walked by.

He had a great day. We played, napped. I took pictures of him napping with the baby; the baby he was so careful and gentle with. He’d sniff her head, give her a little lick, and then lay down beside her.

My sister was over that day. When she left, Tank usually got up to see her to the door. This day, he stayed on the couch. He gave her a big, beautful-eyed look of love, but he stayed laying down.

He was panting a lot that day. I just blamed the hot weather, turned on the AC, and we went to bed. For our entire nine years together, I would wake up if Tank was staring at me. Out of nowhere, I’d wake up and see him sitting there, staring at me. He needed something. I always woke up. At midnight, he was panting more. He gagged a few times, and I got him into the bathroom so I could turn the light on. He threw up a little bit, which happened sometimes.

Except his tongue was cold. It was cold and limp against his bottom teeth. It wasn’t right. Something was wrong, and I started to panic. I got my husband to pack up the baby. I remember hugging Tank at the back door before we left, begging him not to die. “Please,” I begged him.

He was so strong. He stood there until my husband could carry him to the car. He panted the whole way to the emergency vet. He held on…he tried to hard, and I know that now.

We got to the vet and got him inside and they took him into the back. I sank to the floor, even as my husband told me that everything would be okay.

I said no. It wouldn’t be. I wish I’d been wrong, but I knew.

As soon as they got him into the back and on a gurney, his big, beautiful heart stopped.

They tried to bring him back. I could hear him heave as they did CPR, but when the vet assistant came in to tell me that his heart had stopped, any polite, quiet part of myself disappeared.

I always thought I’d be more peaceful about it, y’know? Because he was getting old and I had to know it was coming. Right?

I’d been crying since we got him into room. I’d been crying since his heart stopped–as though mine knew it.

I told the girl that I needed to be with him, and I just barrelled past her. I never cry in front of people if I can help it.

I couldn’t help it.

I saw my boy laying there; I saw a girl pumping his chest. I barely heard the vet tell me that they’d been trying and trying, but nothing was working. She asked me I wanted them to keep trying. I don’t know how long I was silent for, watching my beautiful boy have his chest pumped on. I think I barely touched my fingers to the girl’s arm, letting her know that she could stop.

I don’t know how I managed that. I guess my heart really knew that he was gone.

I rested my head on him and barely heard the vet telling me that they could get him cleaned up and then let me sit with him.

But then something in me shut off. Shock maybe? It had to have been shock.

We went and sat in a room and they wheeled his body in on a gurney.

“Take as much time as you need,” she said before she left.

How could there ever be enough time?

I crawled onto that gurney and I laid with him. I don’t know for how long. An hour, maybe two. My husband was silent. It was the first time I’d seen him cry. Our three-month-old baby was sound asleep in her car seat. And my first baby, my boy, was dead beneath my arms.

I remember running my hand along every part of him. His smooth head, the velvet ears–one brown and one spotted–and the strong chest. The paws I loved to smell. The face I loved to kiss. I didn’t want to forget. I didn’t want to forget any part of him. I wanted to remember the way his fur felt beneath my hands and the way his body fit against mine when we napped together.

The only way I can describe the following weeks is shock. I was in disbelief. I would cry, hard, and then I was silent. I didn’t want to talk, or see people, or eat. People called, when they found out. They said the nicest things: what a good boy he was. One friend told me that I had no idea what a huge impact Tank had on people. It was the nicest thing I’d heard. My sister’s ex-boyfriend called to say how sorry he was; that he missed him too.

But no matter what anyone said, I couldn’t feel better. I couldn’t feel anything. I had this beautiful new baby to take care of, but my first baby was gone. He left and he took my heart with him. And if I hadn’t had that baby girl depending on me, for everything, I would have gone with him. If I hadn’t had someone to live for, I could not have survived that loss.

One of my friends told me that Tank knew. He waited until he knew I could handle it, and then he left. He hung on as long as he could. That made my heart ache, but in a different way. My sweet, amazing boy was always looking out for me.

Tank passed away on June 30, 2015. It was his ninth birthday.

I got to have nine years with the best friend I’ll ever have. I don’t care if people think it’s silly, but Tank really was my first baby. He was my first sole responsibility. I loved him more than I loved myself. He taught me strength and courage; he taught me love in a way I’d never experienced it before. He made me laugh on a daily basis. He made me whole.

There’s so much of my heart missing now. It’s been over a year since I last held him and smelled him and pet him, and I still can’t think about him without crying. My heart will always ache for him.

Pet loss is no less pain than any other loved one’s death. Tank’s death was the first heavy loss that I ever felt. His departure left the biggest scar. He is the one I will forever miss. I think about him every single day, still. I can’t change the lock screen on my phone; it is still his picture. I will never take down the photos of him in my house. I will always have his urn and paw print on display. I honour him, because it was an honour to be his mama.

I am still so devastated that he’s not here. I miss him in a way that cannot be explained with words. I wish I could explain it. If you’ve had this kind of loss, you know. You feel it.

My heart aches, physically, for this loss. And no one will ever truly understand how I feel. He and I, we had something. Our relationship was the meaning of the word bond. Of love. Of friendship.

So even on the days that I have to ugly-cry about him, I eventually stop crying because I remember that. I remember how lucky I am because he was mine, and I was his.

Courage > Fearlessness

It was kind of relief to hear Elizabeth Gilbert say that courage is better than fearlessness. I feel like, on a regular basis, I am full of fear and running empty on courage. On any given day I am worried about no less than 10 separate things. There’s always something, and my brain is a master of blowing shit up, out of proportion.

In the same breath, fear has obviously helped me immensely. Fear kept me in line, even though it no doubt hindered me countless times. The perfect example of this is the screenplay that I wrote a couple years ago.

Several movies and books had put the idea in my head that if this could be a movie/book, why couldn’t my idea be? Fear shut that down pretty quickly, making it so I never even attempted to write it. Also, perfectionism fucked that up because even before I write a word, I was worried about not writing well enough; not putting my story into words properly; boring people; boring myself. How crazy is that, to not even start because of being scared of what might happen? Crazy but accurate. I held back for years, but during that time I started a little box in my compartmentalized brain labelled Screenplay. I went back and forth between it being a book or a screenplay, but in the end it came down to visuals. As much as I love words, sometimes there are none.

Sometimes the cliche is true: a picture is worth a thousand words. A million, even. (This might be another clue as to why I should have taken photography classes…)

In the end, screenplay won. So after putting it off and thinking about it and putting it off, I finally just went for it. I took a couple weeks. Editing, re-editing, writing over and over…. Finally I had this finished product. I was so excited about it. I got my friend who went to VFS to read it, and she gave me some great constructive criticism, but also told me that I needed to sympathize with my antagonist.

This halted me. Hard. Sympathize with her? Fuck. That. How was I supposed to do that when the whole basis of my screenplay was about how the antagonist destroyed the protagonist.

This halted me hard enough that I let the screenplay go for like, a year. I haven’t touched it in forever. Last month I reopened it and changed a few things. It’s a true story, I just had to crunch about 10 years of incidents into one. An appropriate movie length and a good flow. It’s on the Blacklist, even though I have more changes to make.

The fact that I even posted it to the Blacklist is amazing to me. I can’t believe I really did it, but then again, it’s not like I have to see anyone’s face while they read it. It’s not like they can see me blushing from across the wires and through the typed words.

But I have to take over this fear even more, and edit it so it’s actually really ready. I think I was so excited that i just threw it up there, imagining that something amazing would happen overnight. It was a silly thing to think, but excitement does that.

I need to “give myself permission” (as this lecture says) to create this project. I need to fix it, finish it, and present it. I want this screenplay to be something I’m legitimately proud of, and not constantly overthinking. Although, to be honest, I don’t see how I’ll even not be worried about something I write. Criticism is helpful, but cruelty can hit the brakes really hard, and that sends me reeling.

I want to pursue this because it’s something I’ve dreamed about since my college screenwriting course. I imagined myself churning out this beautiful piece, and having it be appreciated and loved by people I admire and respect. I mean, can you imagine having someone you adore/admire/look up to seeing your “baby”? Seeing your creation? It would be insane. It would make me blush a violent red and immediately feel like my stomach was going to fall out my butt. The fear. It basically governs my life, but I can finally see how that is not a negative thing.

Fear may govern, but it also saves. But now I have to separate realistic fear from unrealistic fear, and let myself go enough to do this. Give myself up to this screenplay and really put it out there for people to see.

I hesitated for so long at first because I was afraid of what my mother would say or do. Afraid because the entire screenplay is about how she’s damaged me in so many ways. I was afraid and ashamed, knowing how she’d spin this enormous guilt trip (if she ever saw it) and would make me feel like a huge piece of shit. But I’ve realized that I don’t have to be afraid of telling this truth. It’s dark and it’s terrible and it sucked, but it happened. I don’t have to worry about what she would say, because it doesn’t matter. She cut everyone out of her life, so it’s not like we see each other or even speak.

Her narcissistic personality thrived on guilt trips while I was growing up. Fear was a constant guest at the table. Not even a guest: fear was a family member. I learned how to tell fear to fuck off (in this instance) only recently. I’m going to tell my story and if she doesn’t like it; if she doesn’t want people to see who she really is, then that’s not really my problem. It’s not like I’d use real names. I don’t even have my entire family in the screenplay.

The term “family,” I use loosely. They’re a group of people with similar DNA who spent a long period of life in the same household. The only family member I’m close to is my sister. She is my family. Extended, we have a pair of amazing uncles, an incredible auntie, and the best group of cousins. They made our childhood bearable with their sporadic holiday visits, and I have always and will always look forward to our times together.

Family is something I’ve had to honour of making myself. I used to think this was a shameful thing, but time and experience has taught me that I was wrong. Choosing my own family (our own family, my sister and I) is amazing. We learned that we don’t have to make room for toxic parents, and that we are free to live our lives in a healthy way, free of negativity. And I will always protect my child from that toxicity.

One day, she’ll probably read this screenplay. I still don’t know how I’m going to explain everything to her. As she gets older she’s going to have questions. I will answer them honestly, and maybe she will one day want to meet her biological grandmother. That’s fine. If she wants that, I’ll take her. But I won’t lie to her, and I won’t let me mother hurt her. This screenplay has everything in it. Every blow and every hard hit; every time my heart and confidence were destroyed; every time a little girl was mentally beaten down, to feel like nothing.

Ugh. This is getting redundant, talking about the dark shit.

I’m not ashamed to share this story anymore. I’m just scared of not writing it well enough. I’ve always felt like I’m not as great a writer as some people have told me I am. I’m just fooling people. I’m a fraud.

I guess we’ll see.

Channel the trickster, not the martyr

There’s a special kind of bakedness that accompanies sleep deprivation. My 18 month old did not nap today, and was up from midnight untill 5 am this morning. I am that sleep-deprived level of baked right now, so bear with my zombie-like status and forgive any nonsensical shiz that I might drum up.

I have actually never really sat and thought about the martyr aspect of writing. I mean, I’ve definitely had moments where I feel like I have to write; I should write. I write fan fiction and, to my significant glee, have a nice little following of readers who really demand updates to my stories. It’s an amazing feeling, but I also feel guilty a lot because I don’t update as much as I wish I could. I’m not sure that I’ve ever considered myself a martyr, but I’ve definitely acted in that way, I think.

I’ll get a notification for a review to a story and read someone’s post begging me to update, or giving me compliments that literally make me blush at my computer screen. I mean, is it martyrdom that I love that feeling? I love when someone loves what I’ve written. I love feeling like I’ve given this piece of my mind to someone else so that they can escape their reality and live in the story for awhile.

That being said, I don’t play the martyr, but I would say that I am sometimes a martyr to writing. Not even just writing, but any bit of creativity. I feel so compelled to do something, to create something, and sometimes I have no idea what to do. Write? Read? Paint? (Yeah, right. I can’t paint.) Colour? I can definitely colour. I am not embarrassed to own colouring books and you shouldn’t be either. It is very relaxing and I love colours. I love vibrance and pastel and vividness and every shade of every colour. Except puce because the name is disgusting and the colour is too.

Sometimes I push out a chapter just because people keep asking for one. It won’t even be a particularly good chapter. I believe the fandom of fanfic calls it “fluff.” I write a fluff chapter just to give them something. I wish I had swarms of ideas, but sometimes I’ve got nothing. I try to think up storylines or ideas but I come up empty and then feel even more guilty, and also stupid. What kind of writer can’t write? (I’ve learned over the years: all of them.)

Have you ever heard that quote — I think it was Margaret Atwood who said that any art form is just a way of evading suicide. Elizabeth Gilbert puts it way less bleakly when she wrote, “The nightmare of artistic torment is the ethic that says that our suffering shall be our badge of honour as artists, and that our genius will ultimately destroy us.” I love this quote, I love this concept, because I agree with it completely. Gilbert goes on to say that we need to stop thinking this way, but for me, personally, I haven’t had much luck.

Introverts in general see the world differently. We feel differently. I basically always feel like some kind of alien that was dropped here as an experiment. I feel like my heart is a thousand years old and like it feels everything; I feel like I am not like other people. Seeing someone cry makes me cry. Seeing stories about dogs being abused literally ruins my day. I ugly-cried for an hour when I heard about these two asshole kids in England who beat their English bulldog so badly that she later died. God, I can’t even talk about this now. I actually really wish them dead. I know that’s fucked up or cruel or whatever, but I believe the world would be a better place without people like that in it. Suffice to say that things like that affect me heavily. I cannot ignore my artistic torment.

I see, I feel, I need to write. I need to get it out, otherwise it festers in my soul like a black hole and gnaws on me from the inside.

I love the idea of Gilbert’s where she says that there is a different path; one that says that you are neither the slave to your muse, nor the master — you are its partner. I mean, it’s a really nice idea. It’s comforting to imagine that my head/heart is not in fact a tiny devil, but is a little cherub baby, with fat cheeks and an abnormal blush about their face. (I wouldn’t want that as my partner, for the record. I’d want Lagertha or something. Someone badass but also a gem to hang out with.)

My need to write and the way I feel things and the heaviness that comes with being an introvert who feels everything has always felt like a torment. It’s never been a joy to prefer spending time in my own head rather than interact with the world. Sometimes I wish I was just “normal” and didn’t need to take a breather from other human beings because I feel like I’m about to explode. There are people who thrive on company; they need it. How do you do this? The only beings that I can spend endless amounts of time with? Dogs. Dogs all day. They’re so much better than people, and they never barge in when I’m writing and ask what I’m writing. And goddammit, do I hate when someone does that. As if it’s any of their business what I’m writing!

What if I’m writing a super sexy chapter for my fic? I’m not going to say, “Just typing out, in detail, how this guy is plowing into this woman faster than a teenager because their passion for each other is just too much.” No. Never ask me what I’m writing. I don’t come to you and ask what you’re thinking about. Because minds are private, and mine is my lifeline. It’s also, interestingly, my greatest pain.

I think. I think all the time. It’s constant and whirring and spinning and busy. It gives me everything from exhilarated lightness to crushing anxiety. When I want to go to sleep, my brain wants to know how Jell-o is made or what I’d spend lottery winnings on or why I was born to the people I was born to when they never wanted kids and spent my entire childhood fostering a negative, dark, cold, mean environment. This last one is where I reach for a Xanax and say fuck it. That’s about enough outta you, brain.

Anxiety is as much a part of my life as writing is. They’re like Simon & Garfunkel — I can’t have one without the other. I am constantly worrying about something; overthinking something; imagining something terrible happening and wondering how I’ll handle it.

So can I still answer a question about martyrdom when my need to write and my introverted personality are as heavy as they are light? Wait, that doesn’t work out…scientifically. Like that riddle about a thousand pounds of feathers or a thousand pounds of bricks.

I mean they’re as painful and dangerous and dark as they can be uplifting and joyous and hilarious. Laughing is the only way I manage. My sister and I share a dark sense of humour that has served us well over the years and turned us into vitriolic old British men. We needed to laugh to drown out the screaming and yelling and crying. I like to think my sarcastic, dry sense of humour is one of my best qualities. Actually, it probably is my best quality. I’m not offering much else aside from thoughts that are mostly acerbic and rarely affectionate. (Much like my mother — ba-dom-chhhh.) Just kidding, she’s not acerbic. She is oblivious to deep humour and can only think as far as narcissism allows her.

So. Can I get onboard the wagon to Elizabeth Gilbert’s path of not being a slave to my artistic torment? Of martyr vs trickster? Not entirely. I would like to. I’ll be the one chasing behind, trying to grab on, but mostly just falling face first in the dirt and eating a mouthful of gravel. But then I, y’know, make a joke about it, get back up and keep trying. (Plus the word ‘trickster’ just makes me think of Loki, and that dude was a real piece of shit.)

Finding your path…

How bizarre is it to realize that all this time you may have been trekking down the wrong path?

This course asks a lot of questions. They might even sometimes be questions I’ve thought of myself, but refused to answer. Just tucked it aside in one of my many, colourful boxes in the compartmentalized storage unit that is my brain. It’s probably labelled, “Don’t think about this anymore; it scares you.”

I took an aptitude test years ago, before college, to “make sure I was making the right choice.” The two highest recommendations were Photographer and Writer. I was 22, I wasn’t thinking about passion. I was thinking about making enough money to support myself in a city/province/country governed by oil and gas. I opted for writing, even though the idea of going to college and taking a load of photography courses sounded so enticing.

I loved college, for the first two years. I met one of my best friends there. I felt like I had purpose. I excelled in things again, and had professors praise me — praise was (slash maybe still is…) something I crave. You get a tiny taste, it’s delicious, you want more.

But eventually, I stopped caring as much. I was working at a bar to support myself through college. I was going to classes with people four+ years younger than me; fresh out of high school. They had moms and dads and financial support and Sunday dinners and families. I had my dog, my sister, and my friends. And for me, that was everything. Of course I was jealous of the people with parents. I always have been. Your mom hugs you? Loves you? Tells you that she loves you? Bizarre. You’re allowed to go to hockey games or ball games with your dad without your narcissistic mother getting jealous and putting the kibosh on that? Mind-blowing. Your parents help you get by without making it into a lifelong guilt trip about how your mother never wanted kids and they ruined her life and if she could go back she wouldn’t have had any, so no, she “has no obligation” to help you. Cool, man.

Like I said, I had what I had. My dog was my only constant for years. My sister and I fell out for a while — over an argument furnished by the Narcissistic Mother. I lived in 11 places in nine years. Tank and I moved over and over again. One place wouldn’t allow him, my sister already had a roommate, my friend offered her studio for us to share but we soon realized it was too small for all of us. We had a journey, Tank and I. That squishy guy kept me alive, and I’m not exaggerating that. I had a tumultuous, dark time — well, my entire childhood was bullshit, but being out completely on my own and trying to find my way without a lantern was scary. Tank was my best friend. We were so in love with each other that that sustained me. When he passed away last summer, he took the biggest piece of my heart with him, and for a long time I wanted to go be with him.

Anyway, I digress. I stopped caring so much about school because I lost motivation. No one gave a shit about me or what I was doing. I was working at a bar that had a cult-like community pull. Once you were in, you were sucked into the vortex of partying like you were a rockstar. Laughable, in our oil-driven city. But we had an amazing time. I have no regrets about how I chose to spend my 20s. I went to college, I travelled, I had a great job where I had a lot of fun, and I said yes to whatever was going on. Go away for the weekend? Sure. Go out for the fourth night in a row even though I open tomorrow and have a night class? Let’s do it.

My 20s were exactly how I wanted them to be, given my situation. Yes, I’ve wanted for a family; parents; love, blah, blah blah. That’s obvious. But for someone who didn’t have that, I made the best of it. I’m the first person who will vouch for the fact that blood does not make family. I’ve had the honour of choosing my family. My handful of friends that I trust and love are my family. My girlfriends are aunties to my daughter; I am an auntie to countless friends’ babies. I’ve spent holidays with friends and their families. It was awkward sometimes; sometimes I could feel the pity of their family members seeping through their pores, warm and leaving marks on their eggnog glasses. But whatever, I was the lone wolf and I got to spend some holidays with some really kind, loving, warm people.

So maybe this path, my writing path, hasn’t been totally wrong. It wasn’t all shit. I had peaks to help get over the valleys. I came out the other side banged up and bruised, but I’m still fucking here. That counts for something. My 13-year-old self would be stunned to learn that I was still alive.

I wonder if this was the plan along, and now I’m supposed to pick left or right again. Other passions are calling at me and I don’t want to ignore them. I can’t afford to ignore what I love because I don’t have the money or enough time. I can borrow a camera; I can stay up later to work on things — because seriously, I’m not going to wake up a goddamn hour earlier. That’s just ridiculous. I am not and will never be a morning person. I might as well be nocturnal for all of the energy I have in the morning.

First thing in the morning, I want to melt into my sheets and become invisible to others. By the time three or four o’clock rolls around, I can go for a run, walk the dog, bake like June fucking Cleaver, and plan out my future. But first thing the next morning, no. Restart. I need to prepare for the day and move slowly. I’m like a sloth, mixed with an owl. A slowl.

So. I’ve chosen my path, ever since I was out from underneath a storm cloud and able to go out into the world and find my place. I chose what I chose, and that’s what was meant to be. I can’t get stuck on the what-ifs, because I’ll spend, literally, weeks wondering if I made the wrong choice. I’ll wish so hard that I could magically transport myself in time and redo things. Or transplant myself into an entirely different world. One where I’m an accomplished writer, writing for the screen but never on it. I spend hours in my own head. It’s so much safer there.

My path has been rocky and serrated and curved and crazy. But it’s also been beautiful and exhilarating and infuriating and amazing. Despite all of the darkness, I’ve gotten to go to Europe several times. I’ve gotten to see places I’ve dreamed of seeing since I was a teenager. I’ve gotten to experience life out from underneath a cloud I always believed I was destined to die under. I’ve gotten to a place where I can see that my life really can be different; can be what I want it to be.

Guilt and shame and embarrassment shaped so much of my life, up until I wasn’t doused in them anymore. That may have been my past, but it is sure as hell not in my future, or my daughter’s future. I can’t wait to see what she loves, what she’s good at. I can’t wait to embarrassingly brag about her and watch her play. Music, sports, chess, Magic the Gathering? I don’t care. All I care about is that she’s happy and loved and supported and buoyed and uplifted. Yes, she’ll fall sometimes. No, I won’t always be able to save her or help her — she’s going to skin her knees and have her heart broken and feel sadness. But that pain won’t be from a cloud I’m placing over her life like a shroud.

No.

Our lives are free of darkness, and I intend on spending every given chance playing in the sun. I might be the “weird” mom. Maybe I’ll be too quiet where her friend’s moms are loud; maybe I’ll let a “fuck” slip out and horrify some proper moms. I’ll definitely be the mom that loves her kid more than anything else, and does whatever she can to help her succeed.

Potential exists to be reached, and kids deserve to be helped grab theirs. I’m not here to hinder my child. I’m here to hold her and support her and love her and guide her. And maybe embarrass her once in awhile.

Hobbies, Jobs, Career & Vocation

I’m a little embarrassed about how little I’ve distinguished between these things, until now. I never really gave it much thought. But my brain is always busy, and now I have so much more to think about.

I participate in activities every day, but I feel guilty and like I should be doing more. On a daily basis, I get lost in my own thoughts and I spent a lot of time living in my own head. Sometimes I can’t stop thinking about a specific dream I had. Sometimes I have these viscerally painful dreams that ruin my entire day. I wish I were stronger, emotionally, and able to shut these negative feelings down. I’m working on it, but it’s a constant work in progress.

I’ll have a dream, a nightmare really, that my “mother” is near me, and I feel the oppressive, dark, heaviness of childhood. I feel her screaming and yelling and slapping; I feel the pain of living beneath her storm cloud. The narcissistic personality should never have children. Tell your friends. If you know a narcissist, sterilize them. Seriously.

These dreams infiltrate my entire life for the entire day. I feel depressed and empty and anxious. Panicky, even. The idea of being under her thumb; of dealing with her abuse all over again…I can’t fucking bear it.

Better days are when a dream is insignificant — although really, that hardly ever happens. I’m a lucid dreamer so I’m aware and can control things, so it’s a very real experience. It’s memorable. Sometimes I have such an amazing dream that even that can have a sort of negative effect on my day. I feel sad that I’m spending my day wishing a dream was real.

But on a regular day, what do I do…. I walk my dog; I write; I colour (I love colouring; always have, always will); I read, when I can find the time and concentration. But my choice in books can impact me too. I’ve had a fascination with World War II and the Holocaust ever since I read Anne Frank’s diary when I was 12. It was, and is, so unbelievable and fucked up and insane. I’ve read countless memoirs and biographies and books about concentration camps. I have not, and will never, read Mein Kampf. Fuck that guy and his ideas.

These are weekdays, so I spend majority of my time taking care of my daughter. We play and colour and go for walks; we go shopping and read books for her. When she’s awake, I try to devote all of my time to her. Now that she’s a little older, she can do things by herself, but she still needs me. I can’t just say, ‘Hey, go play so I can read/write/have time for me.’ She’s not that old.

Weekends are where I can find time for me. It’s hard. I’m a very solitary person and I love my time alone, so adjusting to being a mom has been so crazy for me. I never had a motherly role model in my life. I’ve had to learn how to be an amazing mother to my baby because that’s who I wanted to be. I refused to perpetuate the hell I grew up in. My daughter will never feel what I felt. She already does and always will know that she is amazing and special and adored. I’m not raising an asshole here, but I’m raising a beautiful person to know that yes, she is beautiful and smart and sweet and incredible — but she’s not better than anyone. She may be my world, but she can’t walk around thinking she’s hot shit and other people are scum. No. I focus on kindness and compassion and positive reinforcement. I will never scream at or hit or abuse my  child. She is my miracle baby and I will never forget how lucky I am to have her.

If I could add more things to my activities, I wish I could read more and write more and travel more. I love reading a book for hours. It’s hard to put one down because my baby wakes up; it’s hard to close a great book!

I wish I had more time for photography, and a better camera. I would love to have a really nice Canon or the new Sony DSLR. I love taking pictures. I feel like I could make a career out of it, but I don’t have the money to buy the nice equipment right now.

I wish I exercised more. I think it would help me feel better on several fronts. It helps with depression, it helps with confidence. I wouldn’t say no to help in either of those departments. I’m still carrying about 10 pounds of pregnancy weight that makes me feel like I’m built like a bag of milk who can’t fit into her favourite jeans. Still. Eighteen months later.

I am a work in progress.