the burden of knowledge

Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t a feminist.

I wish that I could bury myself in ignorance and apathy. That I could pretend that the world’s injustices neither matter to me nor touch me at all. That I don’t care that we live in a patriarchal rape culture that systematically devalues women (among many other marginalized groups). But I can’t. I want better for myself. I want better for everyone. And now, more than ever, I want better for my daughter. 

I wasn’t surprised when the ultrasound tech told us that our baby was a girl. For the entirety of my pregnancy, I had been telling everyone who would listen that exact thing. “I have absolutely nothing to back this up, but I am convinced that it is a girl.” With the confirmation, though, came an almost immediate, suffocating tidal wave of terror.

We are having a girl.

Oh God, we are having a girl.

Oh God, how am I ever going to prepare my daughter for the world that we are bringing her into?

The wage gap. Catcalling. Brock Turner. Donald Trump. I looked around me and saw monsters around every corner, in every closet, under every bed. I wanted to curl my arms around my belly and tell my daughter to stay in utero forever, where she’d be safe. Where I could keep her safe.

Because the fact of the matter is that I have no idea how I am going to prepare her for this world. I don’t know how to prepare myself for this world most days. For the crushing despair that I feel on an almost daily basis just when I open my social media accounts. How am I ever going to raise her to believe that she breathes fire when the society that we live in is so hellbent on keeping her small? I want my girl to be fierce. Unafraid. Powerful. I want her to have every opportunity in the world, to go through life believing that there is no one more capable than she is. It would be so much easier if I could look around at the world and shrug. Oh well, that’s just the way the world is, it is just something we have to deal with.

I refuse to accept the world the way it is; I know better than that. I won’t raise my daughter to accept it either.

I guess that is all I can do. Teach her not to accept the status quo. Teach her to use her voice. To be big. To take up space. To make the world a better place than she found it. A better place than we made for her. And that I’ll be right there beside her, doing the same.

I have a few ideas for this that I am already bandying about with a friend. I will let you know if and when something more concrete blossoms into existence. In the meantime, tell me, what do you do to make the world around you seem a little less bleak? (Especially in times like these, when the darkest timeline seems to have come true and Donald freaking Trump is the next president of the so-called “greatest” country in the world.)

the burden of knowledge

the hard day plan

Creative Commons 2014 © Matt Deavenport
Creative Commons 2014 © Matt Deavenport

The walls shimmer with shifting blue shadows. The lapping sounds echo off the tile floor. The smell of salt water fills my nose.

I plunge into the cool water without hesitation, letting it envelop me completely, closing over my head, caressing my face, pulling me under, but not against my will. I open my eyes to observe the wavy blue depths I now inhabit.

My feet push off the bottom, my arms propel me, clumsy but somehow still elegant, through the uneven waves. Under here, I hear nothing but the rhythmic workings of the system that keeps the pool full and clean, and, occasionally, when I tune in, the beating of my own heart. My head breaks the surface momentarily so I can suck down a deep lungful of air – the silent, perfect world broken – and then I am under again.

I don’t know what it is about water. Pool water, lake water, ocean water. Bath water, even. It cleanses me, somehow. Washes away my anxieties and fears, the squicky lies my depression tells me, and the tendency I have to ruminate on issues beyond my control. It brings me back to a more primal, more present, me.

Maybe it’s a womb thing. Maybe it’s a childhood thing. Maybe it’s a vestige of some primordial something or other. Whatever the reason, water makes me feel reborn. It is a physical reset that tells me, “Yes. You can do this. You can survive.” Nothing can touch me in the water.

***

When I met with Blake to be photographed and interviewed for her project, We All Believe In You, I didn’t know what I was going to say. For a long time, I have been quite open about my struggles with depression, but suddenly, it seemed like my story was too small. It didn’t compare to the tales of immense struggle and pain that other people had been telling. I don’t self-harm and I have never attempted suicide, and it seemed like that meant my pain and my experience of mental illness were less than.

Blake did away with those fears immediately, asserting, quite forcefully, that everyone’s story is relevant and everyone’s experiences are important. We talked briefly, about when my depression started, about how it has affected my life, about how I have dealt with it. She asked me what advice I had for other people who may be experiencing similar difficulties, and I told her, “Have a plan in place before the hard days come.”

I forget this advice all the time. In the middle of a depressive episode, it is really easy to forget all of the things that I have previously done to make myself well again. So I have posted a list on my wall, entitled, helpfully, Self-Care Cheat Sheet. It lists 12 things I can do to make myself feel a little bit more okay when I feel depression tapping me on the shoulder.

Recently, I finished reading Jes Baker‘s book, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. (It is a revelation. Read it.) She has a whole chapter dedicated to mental health, which made me do a kind of happy dance. Then, as I read it, I stumbled upon something awesome:

Her main piece of advice for those of us who struggle with hard days – so, everyone – is to have a plan in place ahead of time.

Whoa. THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I SAID.

So that was pretty cool. And it also gave me a bit of a push to revamp my Self-Care Cheat Sheet. Now, instead of 12 items, it lists 53. It’s tucked away inside my journal right now but I fully intend on making a poster out of it for myself, bright and colorful and pretty, so I can put it somewhere where it is very easily accessible. (When those hard days come, they come fast, and I don’t always have time to remember where my list has been stashed before I am curled in bed, unwilling and unable to drag myself out of it, come hell or high water.)

Some of my items:

  • Pet an animal. Visit the SPCA if possible.
  • Sing along to Taylor Swift. Loudly.
  • Light a candle in the dark and watch it dance.
  • Have a bubble bath.
  • Take 5 deep breaths. Then another 5.
  • Wash the sheets and roll around on them while they are still warm and smell amazing.
  • Go to the movies alone.
  • Make tea.
  • Snuggle a baby.
  • Indulge in some (controlled) retail therapy.
  • Swim.
  • Smile. Fake it til you make it.

***

My skin felt too tight, my limbs twitching with barely contained energy that zipped through my veins like tourists in the treetops of Costa Rica. I wanted to crawl out of myself for a while. I could feel my teeth gritting, trying to tamp down on increasing anxiety and restlessness.

I went into the bedroom, changed as quickly as possible, and headed into the hallway. I tapped my foot impatiently as I waited an interminably long time for the damn elevator to arrive. Didn’t it know I was on the verge of collapse?! Finally, it dinged and the doors slid open. I wedged myself in between two other passengers and watched as the numbers rapidly descended. The doors opened once more, spilling us all out into the foyer, and I hurried around the corner, swiping my key fob, and pushing open the door.

The shifting blue shadows. The lapping waves. The smell of salt water.

My whole body relaxed.

***

Do you have a hard day plan? What does it consist of? Feel free to share the things that make you feel more human in the comments. <3

the hard day plan

Freedom is Deleting All of My TBR Books

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 10.40.35 PM

Yesterday, I did something that felt crazy: I went onto Goodreads and I deleted every.single.book from my To-Read shelf. It went from To Read (1655) to To Read (0). It took nearly an hour and the first few times I hit delete a huge part of me was screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!” As the number whittled down, though, it became easier and easier to breathe.

No regrets. It has been a long time since my reading life has felt this free.

A few months ago, we were at our friend Thomas’s house and I was perusing his shelf of books. I found several that I wanted to read and took them home with me that night. I added them to my pile of books to be read; that I’ve borrowed, that I own, and that I’ve taken out of the library. I immediately felt a pang of anxiety: there were just so many of them. It seemed like an impossibility that I would ever get through all of them.

Let me say that again: I felt anxiety while looking at a pile of books to read, when reading is my favorite way to spend my time.

Clearly, I was doing something wrong.

I can’t remember the last time I went to the library and spent any time actually browsing. Picking up books that caught my eye because of their title or their cover or the book jacket description. For months, I’ve pushed through the crowd of smokers outside the front door, bee-lined straight for the holds shelf, picked up the 3-10 holds waiting for me, slid them through the self check-out and power-walked right back out of there.

Well. Those are joyful trips. I never even wanted to look at the shelves because I could see that huge number, 1655, flashing behind my eyes every time I did. I didn’t want to add more books to it! It was already too huge for me to tackle over the next ten years, let alone if I kept adding to it! I walked around with book blinders and hoped I never saw a book that I wanted to read.

The other day, I’d had enough. I’d had enough of sucking the joy out of something that I love. I had read a post about culling down a to-be-read list and I spent a couple of hours going through my shelf, reading descriptions, checking out exerpts, deciding which books would stay and which would go. After almost three hours, I’d looked at nearly 800 books and gotten down from 1655 to 1542. That was a lot of progress, but there was still so far to go.

And then a crazy idea struck.

What if I just…deleted them all?

Immediately, the idea wrapped itself around my brain and would not let go. I had to do it. I was hypnotized by the image of a completely empty shelf that would never fill up again. Of being able to wander aimlessly through the library and pick out a new book to read that I’d never heard of before and not experience a single pang of anxiety when I decided to take it home. Of once again stumbling upon things instead of planning out every second of my reading life.

Sure, I will miss out on a lot of those books that were on my to-read shelf. There’s no way that I could remember even a fraction of them. I am sure that a lot of them are really great books. Some of them are probably even exceptional. But will I miss them?

Definitely not.

I can’t say that I will never add another book to my to-read shelf again. But going forward I will definitely be far more selective about what makes the cut. And if I have to? I’ll delete them all again.

Freedom is Deleting All of My TBR Books

learning to surrender

On my hands and knees, pressing into my yoga mat, my muscles tense, my mind whirring. Unable to find space, unable to find what feels good. Begrudgingly, I swing my right leg up and back, then forward, laying it across my mat like a blockade, pressing my protesting hips into pigeon pose, one of my favorites, one of my biggest challenges.

The pose pulls through many parts of me. At first, the protestations of my tight hips only get louder as I focus in on them, attempt to bend them to my will, gritting my teeth and demanding they do as I say. Forgetting to breathe. Forgetting to find softness. Finding only frustration and pain.

Slowly, though, I remind myself of why I am here. Why I have come to my mat today. Slowly, my focus is pulled back to the center of my being, the quietude at the heart of me: my breath. As I begin to blur into the rise of inhalation, the fall of exhalation, my hips begin to loosen on their own, melting further and further into the mat, until, gradually and all at once, I find myself resting with my arms on the ground, my forehead on my arms, my hips open, in a pose of recline and supplication.

Surrender is hard for me. Like many people, I want to be in control of as much as possible, as often as possible. I want to take action and know that it will manifest the exact results that I want it to manifest.

I don’t have to tell you that life doesn’t work that way. I’m sure you already know. I’m sure you can think of many occasions when your well-laid plans splintered into pieces only to be reassembled in an image you didn’t recognize. I could never have anticipated the exact route that my life has taken. It certainly wasn’t the route that I planned.

But I do so love to try. I do so love to obsess over the future and how to make it exactly the way I want it. Despite the fact that every plan I have ever made has derailed in some way, big or small. Despite the fact that this way of thinking causes nothing but deep and desperate anxiety.

*

I would have been 34 weeks pregnant if I hadn’t lost my first baby. Or 27 weeks, if I hadn’t lost my second.

I’ve mostly come to terms with that. But sometimes, I am overcome with a tired, half-hearted rage that makes me demand, “How the fuck is this fair? Tell me how.”

It’s not, of course. Fairness has nothing to do with it at all. The universe never promised to be fair.

Still, I get angry with it. I want to know why it’s punishing me (it’s not). I want to know what I did to deserve this (probably nothing). I want to know what I can do to bend the universe to my will to get what I want (I can’t).

I’ve mostly come to terms with my miscarriages, but still, they hurt. Still, I imagine what it would be like to be 27 or 34 weeks pregnant. To be big and uncomfortable like I never was. To know if it was a boy or a girl, to have seen its little black and white alien ultrasound face.

It hurts, but I think about it.

And then, like a fool, I think about what I can do to make sure the universe never screws me like that again.

*

I do not know what the future holds. I cannot know. Right now, I’m planning on returning to school in the fall, postponing my entrance into the ranks of motherhood for a few years.

I mean, that’s the plan. Who knows what the universe will blow my way, though? Who knows how the plan will shift?

Plan. Surrender. Plan. Surrender.

Rinse and repeat.

And so I return to my yoga practice for guidance. Guidance on the best way to surrender to the universe and stop trying to force myself into the shape I think I should be: thinner, more accomplished, more educated, better dressed, richer. A mother. Whatever.

I’m breathing in and breathing out. I am surrendering to the will and the timing of the universe. I do what I can, and the rest is not up to me. I do what I can, then I open my fists and let the universe do with my efforts what it pleases.

learning to surrender

in search of spirituality

I am nervous to post this. I don’t talk about religion or God very much. For a long time, it has been a topic that I have automatically, reflexively shied away from. I have been known to say that “religion is so weird” and “God talk skeeves me out.” But this has been a big part of my life lately, somewhere much of my mental energy is going, and so I want to talk about it. If you, like me, are occasionally skeeved out by God talk, then I have given you fair warning and my blessing to skip this post.

A lot of my life has been characterized by searching: searching for a home, searching for a partner, searching for a path. Why should my relationship with religion and spirituality have been characterized by anything else?

I was raised Catholic. We went to church every Sunday. I sat in the pew, sat and stood and knelt along with everyone else, raised my voice in the responses with everyone else, sang along to the hymns with everyone else. I slid along the wooden bench and out into the aisle, moving towards the priest with my hands cupped, receiving the bread and wine with a whispered, “Amen,” along with everyone else.

But I was never really there. It was never really a part of me. I went because that was what our family did. I went because it was important to my mom. I went because I didn’t think there was any other option.

When I was 16, I became more vocal about my doubts and feelings of not belonging. My mom sent me to one of the most respected women in our church for a kind of religious counselling. We talked a bit about God and the church and what I was feeling. She gave me a notebook with some Bible quotes printed on the bottom of each page. I left, feeling neither vindicated nor released, but rather, more confused.

I continued going to church with my family as though nothing had happened, as if my doubts had all been dealt with over three evening sessions in an unfamiliar living room. But still, I strained against what I felt were the bonds of a faith that I had never chosen for myself. I listened to the priest’s homilies and alternately tuned out or seethed with anger over the closed-minded invectives against homosexuals and abortions and other things that I just could not find it in me to vilify. When there was a homily that rang true for me, I dismissed it with a wave of my hand, coming, as it did, from the same lips that preached so many ideas that I abhorred. I clenched my fists and bit my tongue and grew ever more angry and distant.

Eventually, perhaps inevitably, I broke from the church completely. In a painful exchange with my mom, I informed her that I no longer felt connected to the church, no longer identified with any aspect of it, and would no longer be attending services when I went home to visit. I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and promptly pronounced myself an atheist. (I spent a lot of time saying no to all gods and all religions, though part of me longed to say some sort of small yes, somewhere, to something.)

But that never sat right with me either. I have always had a complicated relationship with the idea of God. The Catholic God, who is all knowing and all loving and yet perfectly willing to condemn people to an eternity in hell if they fail to be the right way or repent of their smallest sins, is not a God that I am interested in knowing. But I have always had a sense that there is something bigger out there, something larger than myself, some unknowable force or forces that we cannot hope to ever comprehend. I don’t know about heaven and I don’t know about eternity, but I do know that I think there is something. I do not, I cannot, believe that we are alone.

In the past few months, after three years of staunch aversion to all things religious, I have tentatively begun searching again. I woke up one day and realized that there was an emptiness in me that I had been ignoring, an emptiness that was longing for something spiritual to fill it. I don’t yet know what that something is. I don’t see myself returning to the church of my youth, but I don’t entirely rule it out. I have been doing a lot of reading, which is not only what I do for fun, but what I do when I am at a lost for where to go next. I’ve read about different religious traditions (I just read several books about paganism and Wicca, a few aspects of which really stuck with me), and other people’s stories of religious searching. I have plans to visit the unitarian church here in the city, and maybe the United church just down from us. (I’ve had those plans for months now, but come Sunday morning, I always seem to find an excuse. Maybe I’m just not ready yet.) I already meditate, and would love to bring a bit more of a spiritualist focus to that practice.

Whenever I talk about trying to find my career path, Bryan always tells me that he thinks I’m a “slash” person: writer slash teacher slash entrepeneur. That I will never be happy with just one thing. I think the same principle applies to my spiritual endeavours. I am a bit of an eclectic, and need to bring multiple aspects of multiple denominations into my own practice.

I remember, in grade 9 at my Catholic school, my religion teacher told us about how she took things from other religions that resonated with her and incorporated them into her Catholicism. For example, Buddhist teachings really struck a chord with her, and so she brought them into her relationship with God. That she could do this and still identify herself as a Catholic was mind-blowing to me. It was the first time anyone had told me that you were allowed to be more than just one thing, that the borders between belief systems were fluid and not fixed. That you were allowed to have a multi-faceted, multidimensional, multiple personality relationship with God.

I think that’s where I’m at now. I’m still searching. I still don’t know exactly what I believe or how to engage with that. But my years of journeying and wondering and reading have exposed me to many different disciplines that have struck a chord of truth in my soul. Perhaps, for now, that can be enough.

“When you join a church, you are basically picking which hot mess is your favorite.” – Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

in search of spirituality

yes to being alive

I came to a realization the other day. Not a fun one, either.

I am closed down.

I am joyless.

I am sleepwalking.

I have been saying no for a long time. As a method of self-preservation, which seemed like an honorable, even necessary, choice at the time. I was emotionally devastated after my miscarriages, and I needed to take care of myself. That is true. But I took it too far, curled too far into myself and shut out the light completely. And if I’m being honest, I have been saying yes (the wrong yes) to inaction and complaining for much longer than that. For years. For most of my life.

I wanted to travel. Instead of saving the money and going, I complained that I was too broke, then spent all my money on other things.

I wanted to be a writer. Instead of sitting down and writing, then sending those pieces to publications, I complained that I would never get noticed.

I wanted to find a purpose. Instead of pursuing what I was interested in, the things I already knew were my passions, I turned away and complained about not knowing what my path was.

It was all so much easier. Saying no, protecting myself, taking the safe route and never taking a chance. Those things are so easy.

But I can’t do it anymore.

I have this deep fear of wasting my life. Soul deep. It paralyzes me sometimes. Okay, it paralyzes me a lot of the time. It gets so huge and so overwhelming that I end up freezing, doing nothing, so overcome with the need to make it count. So, of course, I have ended up doing nothing most of the time. Which is such a waste.

Oh, the irony.

The other day, I finished reading Shonda Rhimes’s book, Year of Yes. I powered through it in a matter of days. Everything she said spoke right to my soul. Spoke right to the thing in me that was saying no to everything that came up in my life. And I realized that I was hurting myself. By saying no to living, I was attacking the core of who I am.

 

I want to live. I just want to live while I’m alive. I want to be here. I want to take up space. I want to say yes, I want to fail, I want to succeed, I want to try and try and try some more. I want to open up to life. It doesn’t have to be big. I don’t have to be Shonda Rhimes or JK Rowling for my life to be meaningful (but hey, if that’s in the cards, great). I just have to, you know, live.

So from now on, I am saying yes. I am saying yes to things that scare me. I am saying yes to stepping outside of my comfort zone, to taking steps, to doing. 

From now on, I am saying yes to being alive.

yes to being alive

on vulnerability

My hands shook as I pushed the letter through the slot. My fingers didn’t want to let go. I stood in the snowy, white cold for a long moment as I tried to convince my muscles to release the letter. To release my vulnerability into the world. I heard it land in the mailbox. I scrambled back into my car and sat for a moment, trying to get my breathing under control and talking myself out of throwing up.

***

Emotional vulnerability is hard. No one is going to argue with that, right? Telling people how we really feel – I love you, I don’t love you, you hurt me, I’m scared – leaves our deepest and most sensitive selves open to the ridicule, cruelty, and rejection of others. Often the people we care about the most, who hold the most ability to devastate us.

So my reaction that day, as I sent a letter winging across the city to the man in my life I have loved the longest, detailing the ways in which I felt our relationship had gone off course and was causing both of us pain, doesn’t surprise me. The 36 hours it took for him to receive the letter were riddled with an unsurprising amount of anxiety. I was laying my soul bare before one of the most important people in my life and asking him to still love me. Of course I was terrified.

But the thing about emotional vulnerability is that it often leads to the biggest pay-off. People tend to respond to genuine honesty and heartfelt pleas to hear me and see me and love me. Sure, sometimes they don’t respond well at first. Sometimes your honesty requires them to look at themselves in a way that is painful or that they might not be ready for. But lots of the time, when you lay yourself on the line with someone, they will respond in kind.

My letter to my father resulted in an hours-long conversation that was the most raw exchange we’ve ever had. It helped us understand each other better, and the ways in which we’d been our own worst enemies when it came to relating to one another. I learned things about my father I never knew before, and I told him things that had been weighing on me for years.

Our entire relationship shifted, and we have begun to establish a new, more positive equilibrium. He came over for dinner for the first time. We are talking regularly. I feel like we know each other better, and love each other better, too.

None of that would have been possible if I hadn’t had the courage to be vulnerable. Equally important, it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t had the courage to be as equally vulnerable with me.

I know vulnerability is scary. It is supposed to be. Lean into it, when it feels right. I’m sure you will be rewarded for it.

PS. Brene Brown knows what she is talking about.

on vulnerability

the December 26th blues

I seem to have the December 26th blues (yes, I know it’s January). The blur of Christmas is behind me and now… Well. It isn’t that I want more or I was disapppointed by the holidays. It is that I am so, so tired.

Christmas requires a lot of family time. There is a whole lot of together time and not a lot of me time. Disappearing into a quiet, empty room to be alone for a while is only tolerated to a certain extent. My family has a better understanding of my introverted needs now, but still, vanishing for more than an hour invites questions, and feeling the weight of that dread ‘should.’  I should be with my family right now. I should be playing a game with my sister. I should be talking to somebody. I shouldn’t be playing Candy Crush on my phone, alone in the dark, finding time and space to breathe.

I will admit that most of this pressure, these shoulds, are self-imposed. My youngest sister is even more introverted than I am and requires even more alone time in order to function socially. Through her, my family has come to understand a bit more about introvertedness, and no longer views our need to duck away as an abnormality, or a comment on the company. They recognize that it is simply something that we need to do in order to be our best selves later.

But there are some memories from my adolescence that have been imprinted in my brain, that make it hard for me to take those times, guilt-free. Times when I was castigated for removing myself from a party in order to read and replenish some of my energy because it was rude. Times when others were still struggling to understand this need I had and fumbled through it inexpertly. Times when I felt like there was something wrong with me because the rest of my family was living it up upstairs and all I wanted to do was curl up in my bed and read until I fell asleep.

So I have to force myself to take the time that I need. And in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it is easy to forget about it. It is easy to tell myself that now isn’t a good time, that I am needed, that I will do it later. But then…I don’t. The “right” time never arrives, and so I am left in the wake of the day, drained and frustrated and cranky.

My patience and tolerance have been at an all time low for the past few days. Everything Bryan does or says, no matter what it is, grates on my nerves. Our families are big; I have a blended family, and Bryan’s parents are split, too, which means that, inevitably, we end up having at least three Christmases. Sometimes four. This year, I found myself almost completely unable to muster any energy or enthusiasm for any of our subsequent Christmases. I was over it. So very done with Christmas and all of the socializing it requires. All I wanted to do, for days on end, was stay at home, read a book, and be by myself.

The slump is slowly lifting. I have had some time, now, to do those things that I was craving. To read, to write, to do art, to workout, to be alone. I feel somewhat recharged. As I head back to work and fall into a routine once more, I think it will get better. I will start to feel more like myself.

But this sharp dip into melancholia has shown me how important it is to anticipate when I am going to need to be alone, and to make sure that I take the time to be so, regardless of what else is going on and how guilty I might feel about it. No matter who is over, and how many games are being played, and what conversations are going on around me, I need to ensure that I take the time to slip away when I need it. Even just for a few minutes. Even just to pop outside and breathe some fresh air. I need to make my mental health more of a priority, and do so guilt-free. I think people understand more than I think they do.

Hopefully, this time next year, I will feel less like a zombie and more like a real person.

How was your Christmas? Do you experience the post-Christmas slump too?

the December 26th blues

new hair, new year, new me

I was proud of my long hair; it was the longest it had ever been. Many people commented on how nice it was. But it was starting to break down. The ends were horrible, fried and split. I was bored with it. We are on the cusp of a new year.

Time for a haircut.

While I love what a haircut symbolizes – cutting away the old, making way for the new, a fast and easy transformation from one version of yourself to a slightly different one – I often approach them with a feeling of dread. Not because I have had bad hair experiences – though I’ve had a few of those; I once came out of a dye job with straight-up orange hair – but because I dread the small talk. I don’t know what it is about hairstylists, but they all seem to love small talk, which, as an introvert, I loathe. Talking about the weather or the song on the radio or what your favorite color is kind of makes me want to shoot myself in the face. So this hairstylist that I went to this time won my (probably) undying devotion through the simple fact that she seemed as averse to small talk as I am.

She asked me what I wanted to do to my hair. She asked me if I was from Edmonton. She made an allusion to having a child, so I asked her about that. I asked her how long she had been cutting hair. And then, gloriously, miraculously, we lapsed into a beautiful, convivial silence for much of the rest of my time in that chair. She apologized for poking me with the scissors, she conspiratorially confessed that she likes to listen to the other clients’ conversations (hey, me too!), she asked me if I liked the cut. That was it. Otherwise, I sat in the chair and stared into space and composed blog posts in my head, letting her gently pull my head this way and that as she cut, occasionally correcting my positioning with a soft touch to either side of my head.

Early on, I got a hair in my face and went to move it. She scolded me soundly, telling me that if I was going to touch my hair, then she was going to just leave it half-done. She was obviously kidding, but maybe only half-kidding. I decided not to test it. I have been reaffirming my commitment to meditation lately, and it seemed like a good opportunity to practice.

There is an episode in Eat Pray Love when Liz Gilbert is practicing a radical form of meditation that requires one to sit perfectly still and not move a muscle, no matter what discomforts may be doing their utmost to disrupt. She sits for two hours on a bench, with mosquitoes basically eating her alive, and she does not move. My experience was not that intense, but it did feel like it required Herculean amounts of effort to let the hair fall into my face however it wanted to and to not touch it. No, don’t touch it. Just leave it. I know it’s tickling your nose, and there’s a strand stuck to your eyeball, but leave it. Keep your hands in your lap. Just close your eyes and forget about it.

And slowly, I did. I forgot all about it and then, suddenly, I’d realize that whatever annoying piece of hair had been plaguing me was now gone, had been moved aside without me even noticing. That what had seemed aggravating to the point of distraction had righted itself without my having to do anything but let it ride. I have a hard time relaxing and letting life happen as it will; I want to always feel like I’m in control. Perhaps this was a tiny lesson that I could carry forward with me.

Life has been buffeting me around a lot lately, or at least it feels that way. Simply existing has felt like a monumental effort, like getting through each day should be enough to earn me a medal for extraordinary valor. Part of the reason that I wanted a haircut and was so desperate to make sure that it happened before the dying light of December 31, 2015, was because I wanted a new beginning. I needed to cut away 2015, to see it laying on the floor in a bunch of blond, crispy clumps, and to bid it adieu. I needed to start fresh.

I got up out of that chair, my new hair swishing over my shoulders, and I felt transformed.

So here we are, in the final hours of 2015, and I feel about ten thousand times lighter. All the agony and frustration and confusion of 2015 is in a garbage can behind a salon on Jasper Avenue, and 2016 lies before me, sparkling and unbroken and new as fresh fallen snow. I don’t know what will happen this year. I guarantee that there will be some heartache. But now, with six inches of my misery gone, I feel ready to meet it.

 

new hair, new year, new me

the long shadow of divorce

Barely a month into my engagement, the relationship that had been the apex of what a relationship should be for the entirety of my life disintegrated in rapid, dramatic fashion. Suddenly, this couple that I had long held up as a paragon for marital competence and success, was no more.

Selfishly, it felt like a punch in the gut. Which made me feel a little guilty; I wasn’t the one whose decades-long marriage was falling apart. I wasn’t the one who needed support (well, I was one of the ones who needed support, but that’s another story). The pain and anger and sadness and general mess of the whole affair were like a bright, blinding spotlight for me, illuminating this thought: did I really want to get married if this was one of the places I could end up?

My whole world had been skewed, tilted on its side. My worldview shifted abruptly, leaving me nauseated and confused. I looked at Bryan, the person I loved more than I ever thought possible, and thought, Can we, should we, do this to ourselves? I watched the slow and bloody process of picking up the shattered pieces of a life that had been built together, and I shied away from the idea of ever having to do that myself. I did not think I would survive it. I did not think that I could bear it.

I was forced to think long and hard about my own relationship and its future. Divorce had always been a possibility, of course, but in an abstract kind of way. It was something that lurked in the shadows, never really showing its face, never really drawing attention itself. I had never experienced the real consequences of divorce, had never had to navigate its trials and tribulations from any side of the equation, and so I had no touchstone for what it would really be like.

Until now.

And suddenly, there was a technicolor, all too real example right in front of me. I had to watch people that I love deeply bend and bow and wave – but not break – in the wake of this familial and familiar tragedy. I had to witness the very real and very painful consequences; the division of a family, the reassignment of allegiances, the rebuilding of identities. And I had to consider the possibility that, if Bryan and I went ahead and got married, this could be our future.

For a while, thinking about it was like trying to touch a fresh wound; I couldn’t do it for longer than a few seconds. Then it became more like pressing on a bruise that was a few days old. Then, eventually, it became like flossing. Annoying, uncomfortable, but necessary and not particularly difficult.

The realization I came to was this:

Tying your life to someone else’s is always going to be an inherently risky endeavour. People are volatile. People are, to an extent, unknowable. People have free will, and the ability to make decisions that will hurt you in myriad ways in the long run. But they also have the capacity for great joy, great connection, and great love. To build a life with Bryan might mean that we one day have to disassemble that life, parse it out in chunks of ownership and custody and who gets to keep what. I hope that if that day ever comes, we will meet it gracefully and exit it as friends, to whatever extent that is possible. But I cannot imagine a life in which I would regret marrying Bryan, in which I would regret the years I have spent with him. Even if, in a decade or two or three, things end bitterly, I hope that that potential bitterness does not overshadow the joy that he and I have shared together.

And so I decided that getting married was worth the risk. So far, I’ve been right.

the long shadow of divorce