Adjusting expectations.

I started this summer break the same way I’ve started all summer breaks–with a bang. And a whole lot of ambition. I’ve always had a tendency to bite off more than I can chew (literally and figuratively) so of course I wanted to do it all this summer. Explore every inch of my new city. Get in shape (finally). Write 1000 words a day. Eat a healthy and sustainable diet. Put a dent in my reading list. And things started off well enough… but then that thing happens that always seems to happen when I pile my plate far too full: I burnt out.

I had a very productive three weeks–I was working out EVERY day. I was getting up before 10 AM (that’s early for this girl). I was eating all of the food groups. I was writing. I was reading. And I think I was happy. But about 10 days ago it all came to a very abrupt halt.

One morning, when my alarm clock went off I just couldn’t get up. I hit snooze once twice three times before turning it off. I slept half the day away every day for about a week. I didn’t go to the grocery store except to buy a black forest cake which I promptly polished off in three sittings (dinner, midnight snack, and breakfast). I stopped exercising and even though I was forcing myself to write… I don’t know that I created anything that doesn’t completely suck. It’s unsettling to go from one extreme to the other like that. It pissed me off, to be truthful. And I spent a couple days eating cake and beating myself up (for eating the cake, for sleeping in, for sucking, for just being me). It’s a brand of negative self-talk that I’m unfortunately very familiar with, but after a full 48 hours of treating my brain and my body like a trash can–I stopped it. I realized that I might not have had the ability to take myself for a run or to do my dishes or to wash my sheets or to buy groceries… but there was nothing wrong with that.

I mean, was I living in filth? Yes. Did I die? No.

I realized that I needed to adjust my expectations. I was trying to do too much at once. And there’s nothing wrong with that… It actually was working for me, I thought. I was feelin’ fit and writing stuff and eating good meals. But it wasn’t sustainable. At least, not for me. Now might be a good place to point out that even though I might be mostly unemployed, I’m taking this summer to write the first draft of my Master’s thesis project… and that’s no joke. I’m also TA-ing for a spring course. And I’m in a workshop group that meets once a month. So, there’s more going on in my life than might be seen on my Instagram.

So, I decided to prioritize. What is important to me? What’s most important to accomplish this summer?

First, I needed to give myself a break. Second, I needed to clean my apartment. Third, I needed to write.

So I did.

And as a bonus I’ve been going to the beach everyday–it’s been proven that being next to large bodies of water boosts your mood AND your creativity, so I think of it as therapy, almost.

Working on a large project has changed the way I look at my writing and at my life. I used to be very conscious of perfection. Anything less than perfect was a fail… and failing was bad. But creating such a thin line between success and failure is limiting, both personally and creatively. Art is not the pursuit of perfection. And the end product isn’t more important than the process of making it. I will have ups and downs in my creative process, but one doesn’t negate the other. Both will contribute to my eventual success.

Failure is not a bad thing. It’s just another opportunity to try. And that’s all part of the process.

Me at the beach being a big fat failure and loving it.

the writer is (kind of) present

Hi all, sorry for my absence as of late–I’ve just been really, really fucking busy. Who knew that grad school would be so intense? I mean, I didn’t think it would be a walk in the park by any means… But I never would’ve guessed that three courses would take over my schedule this way.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and a little bit of writing (not nearly enough, but we’re getting there), and I’ve also been continuing to acclimate to the West Coast (I’m still permanently sweaty and I have no idea what season it is). Things are going well-ish. I have my good days where I feel like I belong, and this my new home, and I’m going to do so many great things as a writer. But then I have my bad days where I don’t want to leave my house, and I miss my friends/family, and I don’t know how I’m ever going to be successful at anything.

It’s a process. And it’s not easy. I think I should assert how happy I am to be here–I mean, this is something I’d dreamed of as an 8 year old. I pinch myself on the daily because a huge part of me is worried that this is all an elaborate dream and I’ll wake up to a life where I’ve forgotten my entire vocabulary and no longer know how to write cursive. But the absolute joy of getting into this program does not negate the self-doubt. It almost encourages me to put more pressure on myself (as if I don’t already put enough).

And I want to make my people proud.

I have so many people rooting for me–my family and friends back in Edmonton, my BFF in Toronto, my family overseas in Scotland. And I don’t want to let y’all down.

I’m so lucky to have such a widespread net of support. I know even if I fall, someone will be there to pick me up. I’m honestly not sure what I ever did to deserve such a rockstar support group, but I’m really glad I did it. I never would’ve made it this far without you (and you all, I’m sure, know who you are).

I’m busy, but I’m blessed.

So, I will continue to plug away at my reading, writing, and life skills here in Victoria, but I might not be around on here as much. I hope you don’t take that personally, it’s just, in a world where school is taking over my life… something’s gotta give.

I’m happy and I know it

I know that positive people are the worst because others’ happiness is just disgusting, but because I don’t give a fuck about all that I’ve decided to take a moment to reflect on how lucky I am.

I used to hate my life a lot. My BFF can attest to how much of an asshole I was–a pessimistic piece of shit who hated everything and everyone and mostly hated myself. I was probably depressed and I needed to change. I don’t know how I kept it up for so long to be honest; I spent the better part of 2009 being miserable and that carried into the following… 4, almost 5, years.

I was sad, self-destructive, mean, hateful, and just really unhappy. And I thought it was everybody else’s fault (naturally). That’s the thing about being seriously depressed–there’s always an excuse, and always a reason, and always a something to direct the blame away from numero uno and onto somebody (anybody) else. Depression is self-centred, it’s selfish, it’s a sickness. And as soon as I realized that, or, more aptly, as soon as my BFF told me I needed to get help or else, and I got help, and that led me to realize how sick I was  and how selfish I was and how miserable I was… I started the journey towards being better.

And it’s been a journey, and it’s going to be a long one. I know I still struggle with perfection, anxiety, and self-destruction–I have a tendency to catastrophize and get wound up and worry and explode emotionally. But, I’m aware of it and that helps. It also helps to have my BFF, my fucking rock, to lean on when things get shaky. And, because she’s across the country, I’m also fortunate to have a support network here that I can fall into (you know who you are, Peaches, et al). And not only do I have an emotional support network, somehow I fell into a pretty solid professional one, too (thank you university).

Isn’t that happiness just disgusting?

There’s this weird myth about being a writer, or any type of artist, that you have to be miserable to make art. And that’s such a lie–I mean, there’s value in reflecting on past misery. But real art doesn’t come from living that dissatisfaction. It comes from living through it.

reasons I’m scared to move: chapter 1

I have terrible social skills.

I always have. I don’t know why–both my brothers are well-adjusted, sociable, likeable people, so it can’t be an environmental thing. I’m backwards, though. Shy. Weird. It made things difficult when I was younger. I remember I hated going to church because church meant Sunday School and Sunday School meant sitting in a room full of other kids who I didn’t know how to talk to.

The worst part about being socially awkward is being forced into social situations. It only makes it more uncomfortable. I’d get overwhelmed and I’d lose track of the conversation and my timing would be just a tick behind–so close, but when something is that close to being normal it makes it seem so much further off.

Regular school was tough, too. Every single first day gave me severe anxiety (although, back then I had no idea that this was even a thing–I knew I was different but I thought that I could force myself to be the same as everybody else. You can imagine how well that worked). Even if I remembered faces, names, friends, from past semesters… I didn’t know how to engage with them. Our relationship was forged in the confines of a particular classroom, and outside of that context I had no idea what to do or say. I didn’t have my script. I didn’t have a schema. And everybody else seemed to be doing just fine without one.

When I’m around new people I forget how to be myself. I know I’m inside me; I can feel my personality pressing against the inside of my skin. But there’s just something stopping me from letting it out.

I’m always just a few steps behind. It’s awful.

When I was in my late teens-early twenties, I drank. A lot. I drank because I couldn’t be social sober. I needed to drink until my inhibitions were completely wiped out. That means I don’t remember a lot of 19, 20, 21. Luckily, camera phones barely existed and apps like Snapchat and Instagram were merely a glint in their creators’ eyes, so I don’t have embarrassing photos/videos to fill in the gaps. I drank until I was funny. I drank until I knew the right things to say. I drank until I was drunk, and the rest I can’t quite remember.

University helped. I think it’s because in order to have any level of success in post-secondary school you’ve got to put yourself out there. Even if it’s just a little bit. I also managed to somehow make really good friends. Although, I’ve never had a problem forming strong bonds with people one-on-one–it’s group situations that really throw me off. But in school I found my way.

I faked it, mostly.

I stole behaviour from my best friend (a social situation wizard, god bless her). I would ask myself: What Would My BFF Do (WWMBFFD)?  And go from there. It helped me quite a bit, and I’m grateful for her because of that (and for a multitude of other reasons as well).

In between the social anxiety and faked social competency, I stumbled into myself. I took a creative writing class and that creative writing class led to another creative writing class which led to another… and before I knew it, I was part of a community. Some of it, I built. And some of it was pre-fab. But all of it is a safe space where I can be all the parts of myself, comfortably.

I’m writing this because I’m moving in three months and I’m terrified to leave this community behind. I know I’m going to have to start all over, and that’s scary. I’m afraid this was a fluke. An accident. A mistake. 

And I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it happen again.

 

the blues.

I’ve been feelin’ a bit blue lately. I woke up one morning and it felt like I’d forgotten who I was. Not in an amnesia-like way, but in an existential crisis-like way. It was as if my entire personality was wiped clean overnight. Like my favourite things, my interests, my accomplishments were just erased. I felt blank. Naked.

Boring.

I spent that whole day convinced that I was the most boring human alive, that everybody hated me, that I was an unsuccessful sack of trash who was going nowhere and doing nothing.

(I’m an expert in the art of self-deprecation).

By the end of that day, I’d convinced myself that I was a disgusting, stupid, worthless, unsuccessful human being. I was the worst kind of person and I deserved every second of emotional pain I was inflicting on myself.

It’s scary to think about how powerful my own mind can be… but it reminded me of the need for a mental health check. I’m an emotional person (sometimes to a fault) and it’s easy for me to get lost up in my own head. I can create whole scenarios and convince myself they’re real before I even get out of bed in the morning. It’s worse when I’m stressed out, and it’s worse when I’m sad. And it’s worse when I refuse to be aware of it, too.

Patience is key. It’s important to realize that everything takes time, and I know that usually the biggest source of my depression and anxiety is not measuring up to these imaginary standards I impose on myself. I keep raising the bar–which is good–but I also have a tendency to forget about the goals that I’ve already met. I keep my eye on the prize (constantly) but I keep changing the rules of the game. Being goal-oriented is important. Looking to the future is crucial to success. But the self-deprecation that seems to go hand-in-hand with it is not.

I’m a perfectionist, and, although cliche, that’s what breaks me. The self-imposed pressure to be the best I can be prevents me from being the best that I can be.

I need to learn to take a step back, crawl out of my own head, and just appreciate myself–have faith in my own abilities. I’ll get there when I get there, and I know I will get there.

It’s scary to think about how powerful my mind can be, but it’s exciting, too.

 

And it all came crashing down.

My computer crashed. Moments before submitting what would’ve been the last essay of my undergraduate degree, my poor old MacBook Pro crapped out on me.

I was putting page numbers on (which I am never doing again, just an FYI) and she just quit. She stopped working. Caput. So, I did what anybody who has absolutely no idea what she’s doing would do–I forced a restart. And the next thing I knew I was staring at a flashing question mark and having a panic attack.

I took her to the Apple Store, and even though the boys in blue explained to me (in great detail) what went wrong, I still have no idea what happened. All I know is that I’ve got my baby girl back and despite some short-term memory loss (back your files up, people. Back them up right now) she’s as good as new.

She might be too good, actually. And it’s not just that she thinks it’s March 24, 2016 (my last backup–I don’t want to talk about it). They gave her a good cleaning and I almost don’t recognize her anymore.  Her keyboard lacks the familiar stickiness and the crumbs lodged between her keys are gone. Even though I know she’s her, something still feels off. It’s weird how things change slightly and even though they are technically the same… they’re not. A minor change sometimes creates more distance than a big one.

We might not be talking about hard drives anymore.

Things change. That’s a fact. And people adapt. I’m coming up to a time in my life where everything is going to shift (I’m moving to Victoria, blah blah blah, it’s all very dramatic) and I’m okay with that (kind of). But what’s getting under my skin right now is the tiny slivers of change.

It’s not switching jobs, or graduating school (hopefully), or… anything like that. It’s that I feel disconnected from people who used to be my people. There was no falling out. There was no screaming match. There was no passive-aggressive showdown. There was no earth-shattering fight. There was just a gradual shift, followed by a gradual shift, followed by another gradual shift, and now I’m sitting on an island, alone.

I guess that’s good practice for when I’m actually alone on an island, but I still think I’d rather park that feeling for sometime late-August.

Anyway, one more reminder if you haven’t backed up your files, please back up your files. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone–trust me.

Untitled

151000-ish kilometers—306 since my last fill. A quarter tank of gas. An engine light that flicks on and off of its own accord, a pattern that I quit trying to figure out a long time ago. There’s trash everywhere. An empty bag of chips rides shotgun, along side a box stuffed full of ice cream bar wrappers, an expired prescription, and the receipt from my last oil change—one that was at least 4000 clicks overdue. There’s a half-eaten pizza sitting in the backseat, sharing space with textbooks, shoes, and a Ouija board I’m afraid to toss out. A 12 pack of now-slushy Stella rests illegally behind the passenger seat. An almost empty bottle of windshield washer fluid is tipped over in my trunk, leaking all over the booster cables I don’t even know how to use.

A thick layer of dust crusts the dash, some of it puffing up as I depress the clutch, turn the key, and force her engine to life. It revs and grinds, a noise I know isn’t quite right. I peer through the windshield, above the crack that stretches across its length and around the frost I’m too lazy to scrape off. Exhaust billows up and around me, the gun metal gray cloud building up and breaking apart into hundreds, then thousands, then millions of polluted particles. I turn the heated seats up all the way—level 5. Even though sometimes the highest setting is lukewarm, and the middle setting is bum-burning, and sometimes her seats don’t even heat up at all, probably a silent protest against the cold, the morning, my irresponsibility as a car owner. I sit. I wait. Watching my breath condense as I breathe in and out, in and out, turning the still air into white clouds. My breathing falls into rhythm with the rear wipers, the bare plastic scraping against the window pushing melted frost around and leaving behind more than it takes away. A sluggish chunk of snow slides down before being knocked aside by the wayward wiper and I decide that means it’s time to go.

I slam into first, feathering on the clutch as I try to pull away from the curb realizing too late that my e-brake is still engaged. I release it and shoot out into the street, sliding a little before her winter tires find their grip on the thin layer of ice that crusts all of Edmonton’s residential streets. We stop and start our way out of my neighbourhood, stuttering through the four-way stop and then stalling in the middle of a major intersection. Her body slams to a stop—engine off, battery light on. The chassis feels lower to the ground, like she’s relaxed into a sleep. I depress the clutch, turn the key, and she wakes up with a rev and grind.

Look Ma, I’m a real writer! 

A few months ago I landed my first official freelance gig: churning out service articles for everybody’s favourite phonebook.

And it has been awesome.

I feel fortunate to work with a great editor, who loves me (and by me, I mean, my words because we haven’t had the chance to meet in person–yet) and it’s been cool to see the things I write go public (depositing the cheques haven’t felt too bad, either). It’s also pushed me to experience my city in a way I might not have otherwise–I’m a firm believer that in order to write about something, you’ve got to live that something as authentically as possible. There’s just certain things the Internet can’t help you with–the woody scent of a handcrafted cocktail, or the pale pink chipped counter tops of Edmonton’s oldest family-run diner, for example.

The way I look at it, I’m basically getting paid to live my life–which is really what being a writer is all about, isn’t it?

Check out my work for the Yellow Pages here.