Don’t Call Me Shirley

On beautiful nights, romanticism, and the magic of silence.

I just had the most lovely night at my pond.

After a friend cancelled our plans this evening, I went for a walk to avoid sitting at home and allowing myself to get grouchy, and I am so grateful to have had this night.

The weather here is humid–which is strange. Our heat is always sweltering, but dry. The sky is often that cloudless blue that goes on uninterrupted forever aside from a far away sun hanging in a corner of the blue. My fair skin often feels like it’s in a toaster oven set on broil in our usual heat. But not tonight.

This heat was the kind that makes you feel like you’re swimming in the air, the kind that has low hanging clouds that seem to threaten to shower you with thick warm drops. This kind of heat breathed life into nostalgia for playing hide-and-go-seek on a summer night years ago with my old neighborhood kids. I switched my music to my oldies playlist, early 60’s and late 50’s Duwop music–my favourite when I was a kid.

As I approached my pond, I kept my eyes on the sky. The clouds were going a sort of yellow colour, and I expected lightening or thunder to crack at any moment. A depressed thought slipped into my mind, still bitter about my friend cancelling on me, with my luck lightning will strike me even when it’s not raining.

I shushed the thought away, but the bitterness lingered. As I came around a bend on the path and my pond came into view, my depression died a quick death.

There was a complete rainbow tucked behind the trees bordering my pond. Beneath the arc like shower curtains hung the yellowing clouds, and above like an artist had begun but left the brush-stroke unfinished were the broken remnants of another rainbow.

I can’t remember the last time I allowed myself to stop and look at a rainbow and actually appreciate it. Not since I was a child, surely. But here was a rainbow, on this gorgeous humid night, over my pond, light of my life, fire of my loins.

What was more, on the opposite side of the pond, the sun was setting, like melted copper painting the spaces between the leaves.

The heat of the day broke and it was as if someone above threw little rain drops like scattering glitter. They touched my skin, cooling me before dissolving into the air. Just as quickly as the rain started, it stopped.

I sat on the bank of the water and just looked, and listened, and breathed.

Further down, I watched as a family moved to sit on the rocks of the water to watch the sunset, and my heart swelled. I was alone, but I wasn’t–not really. This beauty was shared.

On a different night not quite so magnificent as this, I snapchatted a photo of the sunset to my former beau, teasing him that it would be a perfect night for a date if we were still dating (there has been a never ending flirtation and sexual tension between him and I, so the snap was not out of the ordinary). He responded that we could still watch the sunset together, not touching on our new estranged status.

I thought of this as I looked out at the sunset with the rainbow and sheet of clouds behind me and realized that I didn’t want him there with me.

He would likely have been chatting, making jokes and making me blush, and somehow the breaking of the silence would have broken the magic of the night.

I’ve been realizing more and more that what I want in a partner is someone who reflects the parts of me that I like most (Narcissism? You tell me. I mean…we are talking about a pond, here). In that moment I wanted someone artistic and contemplative.

I’m one of those kinds of people who always have at least one person in love with them. At least, they think they’re in love. On paper, I look like perfection. I’m educated, a bit of a nerd (but not too nerdy), I’m okay on the eyes, I work out (but not too much), and I’m the kind of awkward that’s charms people into woosy fools. I can also reference Lolita, Narcissus, and Airplane in one conversation, and don’t you get me started on quoting Anchorman and how Brick killed a guy. I seem to be so easy to love. It’s not until I let people get close that they realize that, Oh, I guess depression and anxiety can’t be fixed with compliments. Who knew? And I either make them walk the plank or they jump ship. I can’t blame them.

But right now I’m learning how to be happy with myself. I felt good that I didn’t want my ex there with me. It was a victory, and my reward was the beauty I got to see and breathe in. With this new optimism, I let myself dream.

I dreamed of someone who could sit next to me on that bank, and look out at a night like that and know that we don’t need to speak. It was someone that I wouldn’t need to worry about making uncomfortable with my own silence because the silence is beautiful, and they’d know that. I wanted someone who understands that it’s not their job to fix me, but who is kind, and empathetic, and able to put me in my place when I need it. I wanted someone with the eyes of an artist who, on our walk back after the sun had set and the rainbow had faded into grey, would see not just trees, but the way the lamp light made the arc of leaves above us glow like magic.

Call me a romantic, but don’t call me Shirley.

 

The pictures below were taken at the same time like two sides of a polished penny.

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Writing Prompt: Self Portraits

On writing self portraits to create dynamic characters.

I was really excited because I thought the nerdy guy who lives above me had a girl over for the first time since I moved in a year ago. It turned out that he was just watching anime louder than usual.

Anyway, I’m one of those people who is drawn to water. Lakes, ponds, oceans, and rivers are all endlessly enticing to me. I see my ideal home having a window seat in a library which overlooks the bay of an ocean or even the precipice of a cliff that leads down to water while rain constantly splatters against the side of the house. The latter version I envision as something from the Jim Carrey A Series of Unfortunate Events movie I could be happy in that kind of darkness as long as there is water.

I genuinely believed that everyone felt this way about water until I met the guy I was recently seeing. He is terrified of water and thunderstorms unnerve him so much that he has to drive or go somewhere with loud music so he can’t hear it. I love thunderstorms. I should have known it wouldn’t work out.

Anyway, there’s a pond near my place which is one of my favourite places in the city; I fondly refer to it as MY pond. Yes, I’m like a toddler in the “mine!” phase. The only thing I see as having as much of a right to my pond is a family of geese that hiss at me from time to time. I’ve been watching the growth of their two formerly fuzzy babies for months; I can hardly tell the difference between the adults and the goslings anymore.

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My love of water brings me to my pond every day, sometimes more than once.

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I was at my pond today laying in the grass when I had an interesting idea.

My high school English teacher once cautioned against looking for literary tropes in your own life. The tone in which he said it was foreboding and ominous, emphasized by his following silence. This been a reoccurring theme in my life from the professor of my first university class, Intro to Fiction, saying, “Fiction is history” to Doctor Who: “We’re all stories in the end.” If that is the case, if life is really just a story, then it can be analyzed like a novel can. Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero of a Thousand faces, looks at how cultures throughout time who never interacted with one another created myths and stories that (aside from smaller details, like names) were exactly the same. This means that there are really only a very small number of stories. Every story is simply a retelling variation of these stories. Thus, if there are only a number of stories, once which type of story being told is discerned, the end can be predicted. If life is just a story, then life can be predicted. As someone who always sees herself in tragic characters, I understand why my English teacher cautioned against looking at life this way. It is a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down.

I was thinking of this at my pond when I began to wonder how someone would describe me as a character if I was in a novel, and I don’t just mean appearance-wise. We know as writers that a good character comes to life when they have quirks and ticks that make them people. How would someone turn me into a well-rounded character?

Then it occurred to me that artists paint or draw self portraits all of the time. What if wrote myself as a character as a kind of self portrait? What would look the self portrait of a writer rather than an artist look like?

This lead me to a problem: I know too much about myself, and if I didn’t find a way to dictate what  information to include and what to omit, I would end up writing an autobiography instead of a character description.

Genre was the answer to this.

How I describe my character will depend if the genre is realism, horror, tragedy, romantic comedy etc. For example, I likely wouldn’t want to describe my obsession with snapchat filters if I’m in a high fantasy setting similar to Lord of the Rings.

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What role the character plays in the story (protagonist, antagonist, anti-hero, supporting character, comedy relief etc.) will also impact the character description too. Me described as comedy relief wouldn’t be an epic saga of everything bad that’s ever happened to me. Instead it would likely include my penchant for going on dates with crazy people and falling down stairs.

Writing to a genre and accounting for character type will provide completely different character descriptions even though it’s all coming from just one person–little ol’ me. It’s like there’s a whole rolodex of characters waiting to be plucked out of, well, me. How cool!

Not only is this a really neat opportunity for self reflection–I think I want to create a whole book of them–but it will also provide inspiration for characters that I can use when writing for publication.

I’m going to post some of my self portraits on here, provided the information shared isn’t too scandalous for the internet. I will also make sure to dictate what genre and character type my character is so you can see the difference.

I’m too excited about this idea.

 

Depression & Secret Writing Prompts

On depression, Postsecret, and writing prompts.

Well hey there, WordPress. It’s been a while.

Do you ever have a day where you’re just really digging you? A day where you look at yourself and don’t rip yourself to shreds? I had one of those days today. Naturally I took some selfies like a typical millennial.

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See? What a babe. No makeup, and even no filters or editing! I just like my face how it is today. What a strange concept.

I haven’t blogged in what feels like ages because I’ve been depressed. Like super mega awful depressed. But I’m doing better. The fact that I can appreciate how I look unaltered is a huge testament to that.

In my absence, I often thought of blogging, of continuing my quest to write about my life, writing, or mental health, but I was always stopped by the question, “What’s the point?” That question followed me around, bobbing behind me like a helium filled balloon tied to my neck with a dark ribbon. “What’s the point? What’s the point?” I didn’t have an answer. Without an answer, I thought, well, why do anything at all? So I stopped doing the things I enjoyed. And I became more and more depressed until a friend practically dragged me to counseling. I am grateful for that. This counselor is actually helping, unlike all of the previous ones I’ve tried.

Sometimes I still don’t know the answer, “What’s the point?” about a lot of things. But I’ve going to the gym at least once a week for the past seven weeks which is the most I’ve been since me depression became a real struggle two years ago. This is a big deal. I’m not “better,” per say, and maybe I never will be whole. But I managed to write a story, which is why I’m here today. Small victories make a difference. I’m writing today to tell you about the best writing prompts you could ever find; I used them to write my most recent short story.

Postsecret is an “ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.” These secrets are then posted on the website every Sunday. Here’s an example of a few from this week:

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Each secret could serve as a writing prompt because it provides you with something so entirely human, but so little information at the same time. It’s a fragment of a snapshot. You can shade in the rest of the image with whatever words you find and that human element of the secret will make your image go from picture to a moving film. As writers, we always want our work to breathe, and I think taking inspiration from something so real and raw as these secrets instantly provides that extra depth we all strive for.

In fact, the story that I got published recently was inspired by a Postsecret. I won’t tell you what the secret was, but if you read the story, I’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out. It has to do with what the character does at the end.

The story I wrote recently while in the thralls of depression was inspired by  secret that read: I can still feel it when you think of me. My story was about two soulmates who didn’t end up together. And you know what? It’s fucking awesome. That Postsecre got me to write even when I was too numb to feel.

Go to the website, pick a secret that speaks to you, and write about it. I dare you to come up with something that isn’t compelling.

I’m getting published!

That’s right! You heard me, I’m getting mo fuggin published again!

My short story, “What Counts,” is being published by a magazine called Mistake House.

This has come at the best time.

I love to write; I have always loved to write.

I was just beginning to lose my faith in my ability to be a success at it.

And now here we are again. Yay!

Travel Writing: A Certain kind of Kiss

On joyous kissing and travel writing.

 

I haven’t talked about travel writing on here at all because it’s not something I’ve really done before. When I took my creative non-fiction writing class, I hadn’t traveled anywhere yet, and I sure as hell didn’t want to write about my hometown, Bumbleton. So I didn’t pay too close attention (sorry Karen!). Maybe there are guidelines and rules or tips and tricks to travel writing, but I can’t say that I know them. I do know that the happiest week of my life happened when I was traveling, and that I wanted to write about it. So I did.

Mad Decent Boat Party 2014 was a rave cruise that went from Miami to Nassau that I somehow ended up on. I’d never even been to a rave let alone listened to EDM, but a girl I worked with (who I’d never even hung out with outside of work) happened to have a ticket. I had money saved up to travel, but I didn’t have any plans. So I bought her extra ticket. We had the time of our lives. We turned out to be the perfect travel buddies, and have been close friends ever since.

The passage below is from a day when we went to a private island:

A Certain kind of Kiss

There’s a balloon of ebullience swelling in my chest. The sun is baring down on my barely covered form, my pale skin almost stinging as it cooks the granules of salt from the water onto my skin. The inflated raft I’ve commandeered sways beneath me on the waves. Across the water on the beach electronic music thumps from the stage and a throng of bodies, wet and caked in golden sand, thrive to the beat. A red inflatable t-rex crowd surfs, bouncing above waving hands and exposed breasts.

I hadn’t thought to pack any sunglasses and without my glasses, the edges of bodies and sand blurred like a Monet painting.

I close my eyes, feeling the movement of the waves with my whole body, and I float on, that Modest Mouse song flitting into my head. Yes, we all float on, float on.

A wet finger taps my shoulder, the water cold on my sun dried skin.

I shade my face from the sun with my hands and open my eyes, wondering if the owner of the raft has come to reclaim what I’ve stolen.

I meet the gaze of a grinning couple. The one who’s tapped me is a girl. “I just had to tell you,” she shouts over the voices and music skittering on the surface of the water, “we love your smile!”

I laugh because I hadn’t realized I’d been smiling. I had probably looked like a fool, floating amidst the crowd of people on my stolen raft with my eyes closed, grinning. “Thank you!” I shout back.

They wave before turning away. I watch as they try their best to rave in waist deep water.

I still can’t keep the smile from touching my face.

Out beyond the ocean dwellers, a speed boat races around, one of our group tethered to it by a rope lifts into the air behind.

On the beach, people are still arriving from the ferry that delivered me to the island from the cruise ship. They’re just seeing the heaven they’ve arrived in. I watch as two pairs of friends shriek in joy and promptly grab one another in a violent kiss.

I giggle at the display.

That excited kiss has been happening all day between couples, friends, and strangers; my friend Genveive and I were not exempt. We had arrived on the beach after a round of battle shots (a game of battleship where the boats are shots), and seeing the stage, the sprawling sand and blue water that kiss had claimed us too. I would have another kiss like that later on the boat again during a set on the pool deck with Aaron, a guy I’d just met from Seattle, who I would mentally deem my “boat boyfriend.”

There’s something to be said for joy like that, that seizes the whole body and is so overwhelming that it needs to burst outward into an act of affection that a hand grab or a hug could never express. No, it can only be a kiss, sloppily shoved into the mouth of a person who’s experiencing that same moment, that same joy, with you. It’s not a kiss given because you’re not in love with the recipient, but because you’re both so in love with the moment. All of us, everyone in the water and dancing on the beach, shared in that joy, that certain kind of kiss.

 

Reader’s and Writer’s Block

I haven’t been able to read for a while.

I keep picking up books, but my mind drifts away and before I know it, I’ve flipped through two pages and I have no idea what I’ve read. At first I thought that maybe I just hadn’t found a good book in a while, but that’s definitely not the case. I have a plethora of wonderful books just waiting to be loved. But I haven’t been able to get through more than a few pages of each before becoming disinterested. I thought that maybe I just needed a break from reading, that I was more interested in other aspects of my life. This is rare, but it has happened before.

Then I noticed that the same thing was happening when I was sitting down to write. I would eventually get something out, but it was like I had to mine the words out of my brain with a pickax. I thought, maybe I just don’t want to be a writer anymore, but the voice in my head screamed at me for such a betrayal. So no, that wasn’t it. Writing makes me happy. Why couldn’t I get the words to come out? I realized that they didn’t want to come out because I couldn’t focus. So I thought about how I’ve been spending my days lately, and I did some research.

As The Guardian says, “we live in an always on world.” Everything is a click, a tap, or a swipe away. I like this because it’s so true. We are always connected to a phone, or a tablet, or a laptop. It’s actually expected that everyone bring their own device to all of our classes, even though we don’t have a tech class or devices listed as a requirement. If you don’t bring any tech, there’s a laptop cart available. There’s no excuse. Everyone must be plugged in.

And I mean, utilizing technology to teach is fine, but I feel like in this program, we’ve reached the point where nothing is taught without it anymore. Which is too bad. Some of the best classes I had at Mount Royal University were just a professor sitting on a desk chatting with us.

In a wonderfully titled article, “Social Media and the Death of the Attention Span,” David Burnham writes,

“Twitter allows only 140 characters, making the user cut down anything they’re saying. Vines only allow six seconds of video content. Snapchat only allows 0-10 seconds of temporary imagery. With a double tap on Instagram, everyone will know who liked whose photos online. These applications have made for easily-accessible online platforms, but it has also encouraged a detrimental change — a terrible attention span.”

So not only are we always plugged in, but our attention spans are being conditioned to last for the length of a Snap or Vine.

There is currently a global rise in ADHD. Psych Central says “a child with ADHD is four times as likely to have had a relative who was also diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.” This means that ADHD is genetic. But if we look at the way our world works–everyone being plugged in and paying attention to one thing for the length of a finger tap–it’s no wonder the diagnoses is on the rise in first world countries. We are being trained to unfocus.

I’m not an expert on this topic, and I personally do not have ADHD, but I feel like (especially lately) I have trouble focusing for longer than a few minutes–this is not something I struggled with when I was younger. I used to sit in my room and read or work on my novels for hours before I had a cellphone, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts. I used to close my eyes and just listen to music, doing nothing else. Now I’m interrupted every few minutes by the vibration of a device or the need to see if anyone liked my latest post.  I feel like I have been trained away from my natural propensity to sit down and work on something for a long amount of time. And that’s how novels get read and written.

But why am I feeling like this now? I’ve been plugged in since I was a teenager.

I feel like I’ve gotten out of the habit. This program in school isn’t challenging for me; I very rarely have to pay full attention or apply myself. So instead, I spend all day looking at my tablet, or switching to my phone to check Snapchat, Facebook, or to play a Candy Crush ripoff called Gummy Drop.Then I go home and do homework on my computer or watch Netflix. I’m staring at screens all fucking day.

And I’ve really noticed my need for instant gratification when I run out of lives in Gummy Drop. Rather than putting my phone down and doing something else for an hour for my lives to refill, I spend the fake money I’ve earned in the game which always ends up screwing me over. All I had to do is wait. I could go for a walk, or actually pay attention to class. But I can’t help it. I always spend the coins.

And I think that this need for instant gratification has trickled over and harmed my ability to write and read for long periods of time. Novels are long. They take a long time to reach the point of catharsis, and even longer if you’re trying to write one. I can’t spend any fake coins to get to the good part.

So I’m going to try and rewire my brain.

I’m not going to post anything on Facebook or Instagram (therefore I will not feel the need to check for likes) and I’m not going to allow myself to play Gummy Drop after 8 pm.

I’m going to read, write, and try to create new habits in the free time I’ll create by doing this. This might be hard with the way my classes work, but I’m going to try my best. And hopefully, I’ll notice a change.

That’s my advice to any aspiring writers as well.

Unplug to unblock.

 

A Lesson in Semantics

On depression and semantics.

I was near tears when I opened up my laptop with the intent to write this post, but the lock screen was set to a picture of a smiling sloth. It cheered me up, so if you’re having a rough day, here’s a sloth for you too:

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I don’t know if I should publish this.

I often claim that I’m very open about my depression and anxiety, but the truth is that I’m really not.

As a writer, I know the difference between showing and telling.

To show, I would say, “The numbness had seeped out from the girl’s mind and into her body, paralyzing her in the dark in her bed with self loathing for eternity.”

To tell I would say, “The girl was depressed.”

I tell.

I tell people, “Why yes, I struggle with depression and anxiety,” like it’s a fun fact. I’ll bring it up to maybe explain a certain quirk I have, or to make a joke about it. I don’t show anyone why I’m too distraught to move for days. I tell them I drink so much because I love to party and don’t describe how booze fends off the panic that comes with being in a room filled with men who are bigger than me and could overpower me if they wanted. I don’t let anyone see how I rip myself into pieces until all that’s left is a handful of bloody confetti. Only my closest friends get snapshots, and even then, they’re few and far between because I am afraid. I’m afraid that if I show my darkness, what I really am beneath all the meaningless chatter, people will run. It will be too much. A burden.

In my ed psych class we’re discussing learning disabilities. My professor keeps emphasizing that if you ever hear a student say, “I’m ADHD,” or “I’m autistic,” you tell them that they aren’t ADHD or autistic, rather that they have ADHD or autism. They are not their disorders. Meaningful semantics.

I am not depressed.

I have depression.

But I don’t really believe that, not about myself or about him.

In fact, one of the stories I’m trying to get published currently is about  him, my first boyfriend who was an obsessive compulsive, cripplingly anxious, alcoholic with dissociative disorder and was an abusive mother fucker. In the story, I refer to him only as “Illness.” He functioned in social situations only by mimicking television shows; he was composed of learned wit and good timing. The only thing beneath the visage was the illness he was hiding, and I question to this day if there was even a person left amidst all of his sickness. But I loved him, whatever he was, despite the abuse.

But lately I’ve been trying to move away from relationships like that, to be smarter about who I get close to.

There’s a blogger named Jennifer Lawson who unabashedly shows and tells about her mental illness. What baffles me most about her life, is that she has a husband who isn’t mentally ill and never has been. I wondered if an unafflicted man could really understand her, really empathize, without growing weary of dealing with someone who is sick.

Her marriage gave me hope.

I thought that maybe if this woman who is so ill could be with someone who’s well, then maybe I could. Maybe the idea of a normal healthy relationship wasn’t too out of left field. Maybe a well companion could help me get well too.

I’ve been trying really hard to get better, to open up, to show. I tried in my most recent relationship, and to avoid the coldness I’ve so often been accused of. I showed, just a glimpse. And it was too much. He told me so. And I’m single again. It’s not his fault. I wanted to know, and now I do. I was right to be afraid to show my darkness.

I’ve learned that if I am depressed, then I am a burden to whomever I am with. Showing was a mistake. I need to tell, or maybe even not do that either. Maybe I should just deal with things on my own, as I always have. Hide my illness and stay on my own until I’m truly well again, if I ever will be.

I’ve been doing Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and I know that logically, I shouldn’t believe what I just wrote. Just because my illness was too much for one person doesn’t mean it will repeat every time. But logic smogic. I’m sad.

Here’s another sloth.

annother