Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Art of Abusers

In 2014, two big pop culture events rocked my small world: the YouTuber sexual assault scandal, specifically one creator called Alex Day, and the termination of Jian Ghomeshi's relationship with the CBC following accusations of sexual harassment and violence.

A few weeks prior to the accusation that Alex Day had sexually assaulted several past girlfriends and fans, I had preordered his book about the history of the London Underground. His publisher dropped him almost instantaneously, and I assumed the book would never see the light of day. However, a few months later, Alex emerged anew on the internet, sitting in front of 2000 copies of his book that he no longer had anyone to distribute or promote. He offered personalized signatures to anyone who purchased his book.

I thought about it a lot. I was so interested in the subject matter, and I am a sucker for an author-autographed copy; however ordering it felt like a betrayal - but of who or what? His past girlfriends? My morals and ethics? All women who'd ever been abused?

I felt convicted about it, but I ordered the book.

I had, and continue to have, similar struggles with Ghomeshi. I had met him at a book signing just a year previously. I had his personalized signature sitting on my bookshelf. I considered throwing it out. I considered deleting every single one of the hundreds of saved Q podcasts I had on my computer. I debated deleting the photo of me and two friends with Ghomeshi, his once-charming smile seeming like a sinister grin now.

I felt convicted about it, but I kept the book and the podcasts and the photo.

This is not an original question or an unfamiliar struggle. Hollywood has been plagued with racists, rapists, child abusers and assaulters since forever. Everyone knows that Woody Allen sexually abused his daughter; Roman Polanski raped underage girls; Bill Cosby drugged and raped more than 50 women; Mel Gibson is a bigot and a racist; Nate Parker is a homophobe who sexually assaulted women; Casey Affleck sexually harassed and assaulted his coworkers, to name but a few.

But we keep watching their movies, their shows, their interviews. We give them awards and applaud them in front of millions of people. We discuss how gross Woody Allen is over coffee and muffins, and then we watch Annie Hall on the weekend. We buy their books and we endorse them over, and over, and over.

Except: are we endorsing them? Or are we endorsing their art?

I know there is a separation between art and artist. I spent most of my academic life discussing the separation of author from text, how the two entities exist independently of each other. How the author's intent doesn't matter - all that matters is the final product. And yet when it comes to real world repercussions, I struggle.

How do we separate Manchester by the Sea and Casey Affleck's Oscar-winning performance from the man himself? Are we awarding Casey the Actor, or are we awarding Casey the Sexual Predator? Does it even matter?

Can you love Annie Hall as much as you did before you knew Woody Allen was a child abuser? Can you watch the movie and separate the script, the performance, the feeling it gives you from the man who sexually assaulted his daughter? Does it colour our affection? Is "no" or "yes" even the right answer?

How do I listen to Ghomeshi read out letters from survivors of sexual violence on air without cringing and screaming HYPOCRITE at the top of my lungs?

The problem is both practical and ethical. Art, or at least the art I'm talking about, is a product to be consumed. On a practical level, does it matter if I read Ghomeshi's book over again? I've already paid for it, so he won't benefit financially from me. If I watch a friend's copy of Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson will never get a dime from me.

But what is my ethical responsibility? Do I continue to give my time and attention and headspace to the work of people who have committed crimes that offend my very being? Do we try and lessen the amount of cultural capital that these men are allowed to hold onto?

I don't have any answers. I think I struggle because this isn't a part of the cultural discourse. Sure, websites will detail the minute pieces of information about Nate Parker's acquittal, but we don't talk about how we approach his art. We don't make collective conscious decisions - why, for example, did Parker's Birth of a Nation tank at the box office, while Casey Affleck continued to earn accolades for Manchester by the Sea? What are the parameters?

My hope is that we start talking more about the separation of art and artist, and what the cultural capital is of their work. I don't think there are any right answers, but we certainly need to start asking ourselves and each other these big questions.

Art matters. Who we laud and who we bury matters. Because whoever we put on a pedestal is a reflection of our own values reflected back at us. And I certainly don't see much I like in the mirror.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Definitive Ranking of the Best and Worst Love Actually Characters

Love Actually is my favourite movie. It is a glorious masterpiece of storytelling, peppered with quintessential Britishness, moments of hilarity, and the full range of relationships and their complications. It is in a lot of ways terrible, and it is in every way perfect.

It also happens to be a favourite Christmas movie of the masses. Consequently, there are countless think pieces and "Definitive Rankings Of" lists. Buzzfeed has given us a great hoard of them over the past 5 years: This is What it's Like to Watch "Love Actually" for the First Time, 50 Things You Probably Didn't Know About "Love Actually", Which Political Party is Hugh Grant Representing in "Love Actually", and, most importantly, The Definitive Ranking of All of the Turtlenecks in "Love Actually".

But I figured, as Love Actually's biggest fan, it was time I do my own Definitive Ranking Of.

Here is my Definitive Ranking of the Best and Worst Love Actually Characters.

WORST

10. That Radio Host who Slags off Billy Mack Right Before he Goes Live in Studio With his Colleague 




First of all, not only is it unprofessional to bad-mouth a musician just trying to do his best on public radio, it is inconsiderate that he hasn't even seen what is on his friend's show for the day. He's a music snob and a bad friend.

9. Tony, Colin's friend



This guy is a terrible friend to Colin. Instead of listening when Colin tells him he's lonely and wants a girlfriend, or giving him advice on how to talk to women so he doesn't get shut down as much, he calls him "an ugly, lonely asshole" and tells him he "must accept it." Rude! Also, he never makes it quite clear if the movies he's directing are porn; if they are, he's made questionable life choices himself and should ease up on his only friend.

8. The Woman in Charge of Hiring Help for Colin Firth



This character, whose name I JUST learned is Eleonore, can be viewed as a hero - she inadvertently sets up the greatest love story of the movie when she hires Aurelia to work for Jamie. But she's actually really condescending when Jamie tries to speak French, and instead of trying to help translate his English to Portuguese for Aurelia, she just mocks him repeatedly. WHO ARE YOU HELPING, ELEONORE!?!?

7. Annie


Body-shames Natalie. Women bringing other women down is the WORST.

6. Peter

TBH, Peter is a halfway decent character. His two huge flaws, though, are that he is 100% oblivious to his BEST FRIEND'S feelings of being in love with his wife, which tells me he is self-absorbed and makes no effort to ask Mark what he's feeling, AND he hates carollers.

5. Jamie's Brother


I mean, Jamie's girlfriend should just as equally be on this list, because she was the other half of the cheating pair. But who does that to their own brother?!? This cuts deep. He also calls Jamie boring, which is accurate but still pretty harsh when he's just finished having sex with his brother's girlfriend.

4. Billy-Bob Thornton

Probably worse than the current President of the USA, Billy Bob is slimy, creepy, and arrogant. His worst feature, though, is his complete vagueness when it comes to what his "bad policies" were. (This is a gaping hole in the entire plot of Love Actually; everything all the politicians say is so vague and meaningless that we have to wonder: do they even know what government does?)

3. Mia

MIA! Close your legs at work! Stop hitting on your married boss! Don't wear devil horns as an accessory to a Christmas party! Don't act so mean about someone thinking Mark is your boyfriend! Don't accept a gift from your married boss! STOP LISTENING TO THE RADIO LOUDLY AND DISTURBING YOUR COWORKERS!

2. Karl

Karl is the most tragic character for me, because he's a wimpy little poop head. He knows Laura Linney is in love with him and he reciprocates but he waits two years to make his move. And when he finally stops being a coward, he can't handle a woman as robust and loyal and complicated as Laura Linney! I mean, he is a walking contradiction. He tells her "life is full of interruptions and complications" but as soon as that complication interrupts his sex life ONCE, he puts a kibosh to the whole sordid affair without even having a real conversation about it! He is a pitiful, lonely asshole (Tony should've saved that line for him (except no one could ever call Karl ugly)).

1. Alan Rickman (aka Harry but I have never called him that)


Not to speak ill of the dead, but Alan Rickman is the WORST. He does so many terrible things that I have to list them in bullet-points:

  • Cheats on Emma Thompson, his loving devoted wife and mother of his two children, not to mention the sister of the Prime Minister, with the aforementioned terrible Mia. He's not even smart or cool about it. He's awkward and too old and he lets Mia lead him down a terrible road and sees it coming and does nothing to stop it.
  • Basically ignores Emma Thompson when she's pouring her heart out to him about finding meaning in her life, and then criticizes her for liking Joni Mitchell.
  • Is outrageously inappropriately involved in his colleagues' personal lives. Pro tip: if your much older male boss calls you into his office, tells you to turn off your phone, and advises you to tell another colleague that "you'd like to have lots of sex and babies," REPORT HIM TO HR.
BEST

10. Natalie's Family


I'm lumping this group together because as individuals they are great, but together they really shine. Natalie's mum is completely unfazed by seeing the Prime Minister at the door. The dude with the spikey hair is straight out of a mid-90s teen after-school special. The garland on the door is Over. The. Top. Look at how many Christmas cards are on the wall! They are obviously a hit with their friends and neighbours, too. And of course, this family gives us the iconic Christmas Octopus. Eight really is a lot of legs.

9. "I Hate Uncle Jamie!" Kid


This girl in pink knows what is up. She sees Jamie drop off armloads of presents and food before disappearing back to France to ask Aurelia to marry him, and she is not having any of it! Her loud and proud declaration, "I hate Uncle Jamie!", shows us that her priority isn't gifts and food, but sharing the holidays with her family, and she isn't afraid to express herself . You go, Jamie's feminist niece!

8. Aurelia


Aurelia is badass. She goes to work for an Englishman without knowing any English. She dives into the water to save his book because she recognizes it was her mistake and takes responsibility. She is smarter than Jamie because she knows it's important to make copies and not over-indulge on baked goods! 

7. Laura Linney


Not only does Laura Linney, AKA Sarah, look awesome in hats, she is a self-sacrificing hero. She deals with her boss giving her sex advice, she tries to comfort Emma Thompson while they watch Alan Rickman dance shamelessly with Mia at the Christmas party, and she chooses the needs of her brother over her own happiness. Do I wish she could've been more forthcoming with Karl? 100%. Is it tragic? 110%. But watching her interact with her brother shows that she understands her responsibilities and she believes and hopes she can help make his life better. I LOVE YOU LAURA!

6. Sam

Sam believes wholeheartedly in soul mates, and he's more committed than any man I've ever dated. He's goal-oriented and resourceful and resilient. He also inadvertently is grieving the loss of his mother through the pursuit of his one true love. Also, he has the agility of an olympic gymnast.

5. Gavin the Copper

The minorest of minor characters, Gavin is the bees knees because he has the richest, deepest singing voice, and he doesn't hesitate for a minute to regale the young children with his sultry baritone. A good sport and enjoys a good carol sing. Exact opposite of the aforementioned Peter.

4. Joe, Ugliest Man in the World


Joe is the unsung hero of this movie. He has maybe 4 lines in the entire film, but is facial expressions say it all. He has the impossible task of making Billy Mack relevant again, and he works relentlessly to achieve it. Billy tries over and over again to sabotage himself, nearly giving Joe a heart attack. Joe also deals with a battery of public insults from Billy, but he sticks around. He doesn't even get an invite to Elton John's party! Joe is a good man, and I think his relationship with Billy is truly the greatest love story ever told.

3. Daniel

We see the most character growth from Daniel in this movie. He's a sad sack at the beginning (and rightly so; his wife just died!), but by the end he has found renewed meaning in his relationship with Sam. He reveals himself to be a great step-dad in that he takes Sam's concerns seriously, and he genuinely does what he can to help make his dreams come true. Daniel is encouraging, helpful, and funny. This is obviously backstory for Taken.

2. Emma Thompson (aka Karen)


Question: Has there ever been a character as likeable, relatable, and strong as Karen? Answer: no. Karen has no ego: not only is her brother the Prime Minister and she never talks about it, she acts genuinely excited about her daughter being the First Lobster in the Nativity play. She is a great friend to Daniel, dropping pearls of wisdom such as "get a grip," she is a fantastic mother and a loyal wife, making papier mache lobster heads and cooking dinner and doing all the Christmas shopping for her family. But she also loves Joni Mitchell #CanCon. She also confronts her horrible cheating husband in the most straightforward yet sentimental way. UGH she is just the BEST and deserves SO much better than gross Alan Rickman! (in the movie, not real life, RIP Alan you wonderful soul.)

1. Mr. Bean


Rowan Atkinson is my favourite character in Love Actually because I think he is a wizard. In my headcanon, he somehow knew that Alan was going to cheat on Emma, which is why he delayed him forever with the gift wrapping. He also knew that Sam was on his way to say goodbye to the love of his life and was able to let him through at the airport. So I ask you, could he be anything BUT a wizard (coming soon to a Fantastic Beasts near you)?!

Monday, June 20, 2016

In Defense of Whimsy

I was late to the Doctor Who train. It wasn't until the summer of 2013 when my friend Samantha, who also happens to be my television soul mate, loaned me the first season of the 2005 reboot that I finally gave it a try. I wasn't smitten instantly - it's hard to be taken with giant green alien blobs whose greatest threat is they fart too much. But by the end of the season, I had been charmed and intrigued just enough to keep watching. By the end of the summer, I had cried myself to sleep over the end of season 4, ordered Doctor Who-themed earrings off Etsy, and heard my roommate humming along to the theme song in the shower. I was a Whovian.

* * *

Last week I saw play at the Ottawa Fringe Festival all about the struggles of turning thirty. It was one of the worst productions I've ever seen for a lot of reasons - no overarching narrative, unnecessary audio and visual interruptions, a shocking and gratuitous nude scene which served no narrative purpose whatsoever. It was a disaster from start to finish.

But to me, the play's worst offence was it's mundanity. It addressed the well-worn topics of Facebook making us feel inadequate about our lives, the difficulties of wading through the bog that is online dating, and drowning our sorrows in vices, whether they be wine or cat pictures. I left the theatre just feeling bored.

Maybe it's a bit hypocritical of me to complain about someone reflecting on real life, since that's sort of my M.O. I write almost exclusively about my own life and how I understand the world I'm navigating. I read a lot of nonfiction books, and I especially love auto/biographies. 

But lately I've felt inundated with "reality." I can't read any more think pieces about how hard it is to be millennial in our current economic climate. I don't want to see another book cover with a YouTuber's face staring back at me, the details of their life's (all 21 years of it) struggle to internet stardom. I am bored of talking about how terrible Tinder is. It's all a bit serious and, well, bland.

* * *

I've never loved a show like I love Doctor Who

I love Doctor Who because it's ridiculous. It's ridiculous at every level. It gives the audience a few wisps of reality to cling to, and then demands the wholehearted suspension of disbelief: A alien who regenerates into a new body every few years and flies around in a time machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension in Space - a name that could only have been conceived of in the 1960s) that's bigger on the inside, and, for someone who has access to all of time and space, inexplicably seems to spend a great deal of time in London. He always lands somewhere just as the drama is starting, and he doesn't carry a weapon, preferring instead to use cleverness and conversation to solve problems. I mean, its absurd.

Except, it's not.

One of my favourite running themes throughout the show is that the Doctor's companions think of themselves as lucky women (and sometimes men) to run with the Doctor. After all, they are just 19 year old girls who live in council estates with their mother, or they are "just a temp" who thinks that just finding a husband will help her find value. There is the doctor who feels unloveable and the little redhead who just waits for someone to come back.

But through the Doctor, these women realize that they are incredible, important, invaluable. My favourite companion, Donna Noble, frequently exclaims that she's "just a temp" and what on earth can she do to help anyone, but by simply being with the Doctor, she realizes her resourcefulness and her compassion. We learn that the Doctor didn't choose her randomly; instead, she found the Doctor, because she's "the most important person in the universe," and she alone saves humanity from compete destruction.

There are other elements, of course. There is an episode where the Doctor comes face to face with the devil and that is scary. He faces real racism and discrimination on the Planet of the Ood. He loses control of his mind to an alien and that's terrifying. He faces his own loneliness, the knowledge that he is the last of his own species, time and again. For more than 900 years he's had to watch the people he love die, or lose their minds, or worse - forget him. These are heavy themes that act as a reminder: living forever and traversing all of time and space doesn't save you from very human pain.

But ultimately what makes the show so wonderful is that it is truth wrapped up in whimsy. While these immense themes provide the foundation of the show, the Doctor himself is the most whimsical character since Willy Wonka. He's lighthearted, forgetful, messy. He makes mistakes. He jokes. He has a strange eye for fashion and obsesses over Fez hats and Converse sneakers and leather jackets. He believes in the impossible because, more often than not, the impossible happens.  He faces fear with curiosity and an adventurous heart(s), and he always hopes for the best and expects the best, too. He believes goodness is inside everyone, and that we all ultimately want to choose good over evil.

* * *

On the way home from the disastrous play, all I could think was that I wanted more whimsy. I think our brutally self-aware society has forgotten about the everyday magic that makes the heaviness of life just a little bit lighter. 

I think there can be balance. We can stay focused on and aware of our reality while believing in the impossible. Because of course the winged statues on Rideau aren't Weeping Angels, but there's a brief spark of joy, just a microsecond, in pretending they are. Of course a TARDIS won't drop down on my street and whisk me away to Planet Klom tomorrow, but what's the harm in sort of hoping it might? 

There is value in the weight of reality, but there is so much joy in whimsy.

-Jillz

Post Script: This is my favourite quote about the essence of the Doctor from writer Steven Moffat:

It's hard to talk about the importance of an imaginary hero. But heroes ARE important: Heroes tell us something about ourselves. 

History tells us who we used to be, documentaries tell us who we are now; but heroes tell us who we WANT to be.

And a lot of our heroes depress me. 

But when they made this particular hero, they didn't give him a gun--they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn't give him a tank or a warship or an x-wing fighter--they gave him a box from which you can call for help. And they didn't give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat-ray--they gave him an extra HEART. They gave him two hearts! And that's an extraordinary thing.

There will never come a time when we don't need a hero like the Doctor.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The State of the Thing*

Well hello there.

I haven't blogged in a long time. I mean, we all know this. Some (very kind) people have asked me to write something, and I promise you: I've thought about it. I've even tried! But I've been a bit preoccupied and also, if I'm being honest, a bit uninspired. But a very wise friend said to me once that creativity comes in seasons. There are times when we are in full bloom and can create and produce beautiful things at a remarkable pace. Then there are other seasons where our creativity lies dormant, and we can use this time to rest and nourish ourself, until we are able to start making things again.

So that's where I've been. Dormant.

There are a few reasons I've not been writing. The first is quite practical: my new apartment. The place I moved into last November ended up being an absolute nightmare. I don't have the time or the energy - or the bandwidth - to detail all the problems I had. A fresh hell arose every week with something in my apartment, or with the property management company, or with the building as a whole. A small sampling of what I had to deal with:
  • my apartment was over 35 degrees in early January; 
  • the fire alarm went off for two days straight; 
  • I nearly ended up in a legal battle over road salt; and 
  • several building-mates had face-to-face encounters with bats.
The good news is that I've since moved to an apartment I love in a fantastic neighbourhood. But in order to get out of my first lease, I spent the past six months becoming an expert on Ottawa bylaws and landlord-tenant laws. I spent hours and days reading through legal text, talking to other tenants in the building, and looking up bat sounds on YouTube to verify if the noise I had been hearing in the walls all winter was, indeed, bats (still unsure about this one).

The second reason I haven't felt particularly inspired is that I think I've been in recuperation mode. If you read my last few blog posts, you know that 2015 was a really difficult year. I felt emotionally raw, and I spent most of last year in survival mode. And while the past six months have certainly done their best to challenge me, I also feel like I've had the time for self care. I've read a bit, and watched lots of documentaries. I purged a lot of my makeup and clothing. I went to the doctor and got a prescription for orthotics. I made a commitment to use up all the food in my fridge before it goes bad, so I've been spending a lot of time with recipe books. I adopted a cat named Benedict Cumbercat, and he brings me more joy than I could've predicted. I'm seeing a counsellor who makes me feel very calm. I've been listening to lots of podcasts - some on faith, some about storytelling, others about justice and truth.

I didn't really realise it until now, but I guess the past few months have been my pruning period. I needed some time to rub some balm on my soul, let it lie fallow.

But I've been feeling reinvigorated lately, and I'm inspired to start writing again. I've been working on a novel sporadically for a little while, but it's laid pretty much untouched for months; I'm getting excited about it again, and have begun working on it. I have a few blog posts that I've been tinkering with, and I'm writing another article or two for publication in online magazines. I've also decided to start bullet journalling, which I hope will help me organise my thoughts so I can actually build on little threads of ideas before they disappear from my mind.

I've also been thinking a lot about the future in a way I haven't really had the luxury of doing before. I am finally in a state of mind to be able to think about what my life might look like in the long term - the sort of work I want to be doing, and how I can achieve it. I've spent some time thinking and planning for the next three- to five years, and it's been exciting for me to actually be able to envision the things I want beyond the immediate future.

(I realise this all sounds very vague, but I'm hesitant to share details on my public blog. Not right now. These plans feel very intimate, in a way; I feel like I'm following direction from my very soul. Right now, I'm enjoying just ruminating on it and being hopeful.)

To conclude this very circa 2010 blog post, I'm just going to throw in a list of things I've been enjoying over the past few months, because why not?
  • I loved the book (and the documentary of the same name) Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. Scientology is scary and fascinating and insanely complex, and Wright does a spectacular job exposing and explaining. It's one of the best books I've read in a very long time.
  • I've been watching YouTuber Casey Neistat a lot over the past two months. He's made a video every single day since March 25, 2015. At first I hated him because I thought he worked too much and never saw his family, but I've grown to really enjoy his daily vlogs.
  • Aloe juice. Delicious.
  • I've been trying to eat better the past month, so I've replaced chips with Goldfish crackers, and I almost can't tell the difference. (Almost.)
  • I've cut back on the amount of makeup I wear daily, and I often go out without any on at all. I'm loving the freedom of being able to rub my face without fear of Panda eyes.
See you all back here soon,
Jill

* The title is a reference to the emails I get monthly from the website Library Thing, which are called "The State of the Thing." I never read those emails.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Beautiful and True

In Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller writes the phrase "beautiful and true" a lot. I've always loved that. I think the truth is always, in some form, beautiful, and I love the idea that there are life moments that teach us what those beautiful and true things are.

My friend and I sat on my couch in my Ottawa apartment as the clock struck midnight on 1 January 2015. My friend and I toasted, as I had every year before, to "hoping this is the best year yet!"

If you read my last blog post, you know that 2015 was not the Best Year Yet. We could, if we're speaking in superlatives anyway, say it was probably one of the worst. At 12:01am on 1 January, I received a really crappy email from a boy I wanted to be dating, and everything kind of went off the rails from there (I won't rehash it all here, but you can see my last post for the nitty gritty, where I laid out my woes in great detail).

About two months ago, everything in my life almost instantaneously reversed. I have a nice new apartment and a comfy grey couch, a job that actually lets me pay bills and use some of my skills, and I've been able to go on dates with actual straight men without wanting to cry and/or vomit.

In these past few weeks of upswing, I've been able to really process the past year. Some friends have noted, and I've felt it, too, that I am a different person than I was 12 months ago. I think you probably grow the most when things are difficult ("if you're not laughing, you're learning," as they say), and there are some lessons I've learned that I'd like to say are also beautiful and true.

Grief is not linear

I was listening to an episode of Rob Bell's podcast the other day where he featured an interview with David Kessler, a grief specialist. Kessler said that a common misunderstanding about the five stages of grief - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance - is that we experience them in that order. Instead, we actually might rally back and forth between two or three of the stages; we may spend a lot of time being angry, we may skip over bargaining entirely, and we may never reach acceptance. He also said that when we mourn, we don't just grieve the loss of what was, but the loss of what could have been.

I spent a lot of time grieving this year. I grieved the end of a long, intense, and unhealthy friendship; I grieved a love that never had the chance to flourish; I grieved for the life I was supposed to have at 28. I spent a lot of time being angry at the beginning ("I can't pay my bills, and it's [insert anyone's name here] fault"), and then long stretches of being depressed ("I am repulsive and forever unlucky and everything I touch I ultimately destroy"), peppered with moments of bargaining ("What if he misses me as much as I miss him, and he's just waiting for me to send the first email?").

I remember talking with my best friend in June, and I had felt a resurgence of anger about something I thought I had forgotten months ago. "I just hope they are as miserable as I am!" I sobbed. "Why am I still so mad about this? I've already been through the bargaining stage! Why am I back here?" I felt so guilty about backtracking my feelings, and I felt weak and lonely and helpless that I hadn't been able to reach a stage of acceptance.

But I've since gotten there, and I've realised that you cannot make yourself feel something if you're not ready. Our self-help culture tells us that we have to rebound immediately, and not once we've actually processed and healed. I've learned that in order to feel better, we have to give ourselves time. And sometimes that means feeling awful for a really, really long time. But grief ends, or at least changes shape, if we let ourselves take the time to experience it in whatever way we need to.

You are not weak for wanting love

In 2015, I said something out loud that I had never dared say before: "I want to be in love with someone."

I have never felt so exposed and vulnerable in my life.

One of the things I like a lot about myself is my independence. I've always felt very determined to achieve goals on my own and be able to take care of myself. It makes me feel confident and brave that I can make big life decisions on my own.

When I was younger, I had a lot of friends who were constantly in and out of relationships. No sooner would one relationship end than another would be blossoming. And it often seemed like their happiness (and their sanity) rested on having a boyfriend. 

I rejected this behaviour. In fact, I feared becoming That Girl so much that I slowly started viewing relationships as an impediment to life, rather than an enhancement.

For so long, I thought if I admitted that I wanted a real, meaningful relationship, I was admitting defeat. I was not the strong, independent, confident woman I had tried to hard to appear to be. I was so afraid of sounding like a girl. I would open myself up to ridicule and judgement: I'm too fat, too outspoken, too weird, too [whatever] to find love. I would just be another boring, weak-willed woman, swept up in the falseness of love that movies tell us is real.

In February, I read Don Miller's newest book, Scary Close. It's about intimacy in relationships, and about connecting to other people in profoundly meaningful ways. It's truly a fantastic book, and it made me think about how much bravery and independence it takes to be committed to someone else. I've realised that simply having a significant other doesn't bring you joy, but building a community with someone else is intensely fulfilling. It is good hard work.

This year, I realised that wanting to be in love does make me sound like a little girl playing dressup. But it also makes me sound like a 30 year old football player, and a 70 year old woman in a nursing home. Because wanting love and wanting connection with others is the most universal desire, and wanting to build community is the noblest of all goals. And wanting love does not make me weak; it makes me spectacularly human.

We are not alone

I was scared to write my last blog post. I don't know what I was more worried about - that no one would read it, or that everyone would. I felt vulnerable and I was afraid that people would think I was whiny and weak, or worse - they'd pity me. But I posted it anyway, because sometimes we have to do things that scare us. 

I have been blogging for 5 years, and I've never had such a strong response to anything I've written. I received emails and Facebook comments and private messages from people I hadn't spoken to in a long while; I had texts and phone calls from friends and family; friends of friends tweeted links and shared my blog around the internet. And the overwhelming refrain from every single person was: Me too.

It occurred to me in November, after two dear friends gave up 10 hours of their day to help me move and in the following days as other friends stopped in to help me put together furniture and organize my new apartment, that I have never really felt alone. Throughout this entire year, I have been sad and sick and frustrated; I've been angry and downright miserable. But I never once felt like I was alone. For all the suffering I went through, my friends suffered right along with me - maybe not by choice, but always graciously. I made countless phone calls to moan and complain about the same things over and over, and people kept listening. I cancelled plans because I was sick for the 10th week in a row, and they still invited me the next time. Friends sat in coffee shops with me in total silence as they sipped their coffee and I brooded. I quit my job with no money and no plan, and my family just packed me up and brought me home, no questions asked.

I have struggled often this year to be able to adequately express my gratitude to the people who, sometimes inexplicably it seems, love me. It is humbling in the extreme and comforting in the deepest way to know that even at my worst, people still care. "Thank you" doesn't seem to cut it.

But I also felt so connected to and surrounded by support when I laid my dishevelled self out on the internet for all to see, and people just said "Yeah, I get it." People told me that they'd been there, too, and that it would get better. That sometimes they felt like they had their lives together, and other times it was a disaster. Some people thanked me for just being honest, because it made them feel like they could be honest too. Because we all think that we are the only ones who feel unsure of ourselves, and it's good to know that everyone else is right there alongside of us, just making it through the day, too.

And I think this is the most beautiful and the most true: we are not alone.


Here's to 2016. May it be the best year yet.

Monday, September 21, 2015

What You're Worth: Why Everything is the Absolute Worst Right Now, But I'm Still Trying

I have been having violent and terrifying nightmares lately. These dreams cause me to wake up covered in tears and sweat, and look around my room to make sure men with knives and guns aren't standing over my bed, waiting for me. It's made me dread sleep, which has made me a daytime zombie.

I've talked to a few people about these terrifying dreams, including my doctor, and the general consensus is that I am unsettled in my waking life. And that's not surprising: to be honest, everything is the worst right now. I'm unemployed, and have been underemployed ever since 2012. In a few weeks I will be homeless in Ottawa. My beautiful pink couch has gone to a new home. I have no money and few job prospects. I've never had a successful relationship, and I've actively avoided speaking to single straight men for approximately 9 months. I've fallen so far behind on my training schedule for a 10k race in October that yesterday my running app asked me if I was still alive. The only successes I've had lately is making it to level 21 in Paradise Bay, and figuring out how to stream The Great British Bakeoff from the BBC website.

In the midst of this persistent and baseline of terror that my life is a complete and total waste at the age of 28, my sister called me. "I have a request," she said.

"...okay. You may proceed," I said.

"I want you to write a blog post about worth."

I stopped swatching eye shadows and stared at the phone. "Like, monetary worth? You know I don't understand the economy. I just hear the word 'taxes' and I start to hyperventilate."

"No, obviously not," she sighed. "I mean people's worth. What it is that makes people valuable."

What prompted this request was a post she had seen on Facebook. A friend had wished a happy birthday to their daughter, adding that she had a nice house, a good job, and a husband. What bothered my sister about this was that it seemed like such an obvious statement: what made her daughter worthy was a trio of surface successes.

Even though I want to believe I'm strong enough and smart enough to know that marriage and money isn't what makes a person valuable, hearing of another engagement or someone getting the very job I had also applied for causes me to crawl into bed and watch Community for the 13th time. It isn't that other people are experiencing cool and exciting things in their lives; it's that I feel like I'm reminded that I have nothing to show for myself, and therefore I do not matter; I am worthless.

Rationally, I know this isn't true. Of course I matter; all lives matter. But the doubt and fear and pressure of the media and Facebook and social circles remind me that some matter more than others. If you can tick the boxes of success - love, employment, purchasing power - then you have hit the jackpot! You win! Your life is more valuable because we can quantify it.

And I think it boils down to ease. It's easier to congratulate someone on a new job or gush over a cruise to Mexico, than it is to remark someone's ability to contemplate important social issues. It's easier to see a wedding as mark of success, rather than the ability to be vulnerable over and over again, risking heartbreak every time, as a mark of strength. It's easier to congratulate someone on buying a house than it is to congratulate them for waking up to another day of unknowns and simply trying.

I've been lucky, in that I have parents and a sister and friends who have reminded me consistently over the past few months why I matter to them - I'm funny; I'm smart; I have thoughtful insights to their problems; I can cook; I am passionate about stuff, which in turn makes them passionate too. These tidbits have shone like lanterns in the window while a blizzard rages all around me. And these people have also reminded me that they were once where I am, or their future is uncertain too, and that this isn't it, and there's so much to be excited about. That I am not alone.

I guess what I really want, with this entire rambling post full of feelings, is to be able to celebrate the little successes. To post on Facebook "I got out of bed today, and I applied for a job, and then I paid my internet bill on time" and have a surge of "likes" and comments: congratulations! well done! good luck!

Because I think what makes us worthy not our successes; it is simply that we are trying.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Fifteen of my Favourite Feelings

A little while ago, Hank Green posted a video called 15 of My Favourite Feelings. In the description of the video, he says:
When we're confronted with negative experiences, we want to analyze them and think about them and remember them for future use. But with positive emotions, we often just feel them and enjoy them, which is wonderful, but also leads to us putting less weight on them and it seems like they take up less space in our minds. [...] Recognizing and harping on the positive experiences we have is a great way, I think, to both have a better outlook on life, and have more positive experiences.
I think he's right. I could use a little boost right now, so I decided to spend some time thinking about fifteen of my favourite feelings.

  1. When someone I really respect tells me, unprompted, that they really respect me
  2. When someone tells me that something I said to them a long time ago, and I've long since forgotten having said it in the first place, has stuck with them, and has shaped their choices and decisions.
  3. Reading a book I didn't expect to love, but quickly becoming so immersed in the story that I have to stay up reading until my eyes hurt from fighting to keep them open.
  4. Meeting someone for the first time and instantly knowing you're going to really like them.
  5. Having a vision of an exact shade of lipstick I want, and magically finding it.
  6. Getting messages from people I haven't spoken to in a while, telling me that something I've written has resonated with them personally.
  7. Remembering old jokes and stories with long-time friends and laughing as much as we did the first time.
  8. Seeing people I deeply care about find a person or a place or a job that makes them happier than anything else. 
  9. Talking about makeup with other people who also really love talking about makeup.
  10. The first moment of realizing that the wound left by people and situations that have hurt me is completely healed, and I don't have to ever think about it or them again.
  11. The relief that comes with finally making a hard decision.
  12. Spending a whole recovery day in bed, binging on a new season of TV.
  13. Walking out of a hot yoga studio and being hit with a wave of air conditioning.
  14. The easy and honest conversations that come at the end of a long, good day over a cup of tea.
  15. A text from a friend of family out of the blue, just saying hi, and reminding me that good relationships are not conditional on constant contact.
This was really nice, and almost cathartic. It's good to remind ourselves of the things that make us feel good.