20 September 2017

Western Philosophy and the Suicide Epidemic

To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA)'s theme for World Suicide Prevention Day 2017 was 'Stay. Find what you were made for.'

Before I go any further let me make it very clear that I ABSOLUTELY AGREE with that phrase. It's a very good theme and a sentiment I, as a survivor of two attempts, can get behind without hesitation.

But this saying highlights a problem in western philosophy.

Children are taught from the time they start to talk that the world evolved over millions of years, that everything is here by chance. They are taught that there is no God, no being behind everything they see and experience. Things just sort of 'happen.' There's no intelligent design or reason behind anything.

As they continue in school, they learn that morals are a social construct designed to restrict freedom (including that of the most horrific murderers and rapists, for the record) and the ends justify the means. They learn that there is no ultimate meaning to anything -- art, science, education, nature, life -- except what we, humankind, ascribe to it. They learn, through the abortion debate, through war, that human life is disposable -- that it doesn't really mean anything. They learn there is nothing after death, that nothing happens for a reason. That 'The Universe' determines everything by a roll of the dice. That -- when you boil it all down -- nothing really matters.

If we weren't even made/created by anything other than chance, this tagline -- 'find what you were made for' -- makes no sense. If we just sort of 'happened' for no reason, then saying we were made for something is a bald-faced lie.

But if that tagline is right -- that we were made for something... then we as western culture need to take a serious look at the philosophy we're teaching our children.

This tagline highlights why so many of us are of the mindset that our lives mean nothing, that nothing matters anyway, that the world would carry on the same whether we lived or died. Because that is what society has told us since before we could walk on our own.

From experience: A suicidal person is likely suicidal because they feel they have nothing to offer. (Those, in fact, were the exact words I used when I first told someone I was suicidal -- 'I feel like I have nothing to offer. I don't mean anything to anybody. No-one would miss me if I was gone.') This kind of thinking is rarely developed overnight. Rather, this kind of thinking becomes habit over years and years -- a lifetime -- of being told our lives were happenstance and we have nothing to offer. Example: the first time I remember thinking no-one needs me around, I was nine years old.

Nine.

And that thought percolated, unseen, gathering strength, until I finally realised at age twenty-three that something was wrong. For those of you keeping score at home, that's fourteen years of this thought pattern sinking into my psyche. While my suicide attempt might have seemed to come out of nowhere, the fact was the thought process behind it had been brewing for over half my life.

If I was just a product of chance, the world could afford to miss me. It was as simple as that. That gave me the excuse I needed not only to kill myself and think nobody would notice, it actually gave me a very good reason to believe that I was killing myself as a favour to those around me. I thought -- I literally used these words -- 'the world would be better off without me in it.' After all, if I was only a product of chance, then surely I wasn't necessary... I could very easily not have ever existed at all, and apparently things would have been much the same.

Were we created for a purpose or did we come about by chance? Do we have meaning as humans or not? Clearly the belief that we have no meaning is at least contributing to the high suicide rate. If it wasn't, we wouldn't be trying to counteract it by saying the opposite ('you were made for a purpose').

What if -- what if -- we told children this right from the start? What if we told them from the time they began to talk that they were made with a purpose, made for something important, that they are not inconsequential and not a product of chance? Consider the old saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What if the idea that people are created with meaning was so pervasive it never even occurred to our children that their lives might not have meaning?

12 September 2017

The Things You Told Me

6 July 2017, 10.00pm.

You told me to 'follow my heart/dreams.' So I became an artist.
And you told me I was stupid.

You told me to 'find a job.' So I went into construction.
Then you said that 'wasn't legitimate' because it's a family company.

You told me you would always be there for me if I ever needed to talk. So I emailed you.
And you never replied.

You told me you wanted to hear about how my life was going.
Then you told me I'm 'too negative.'

You told me people care about me.
Then you turned your back and walked away, leaving me to find these mythical people myself.

What the actual heck do you want from me?

08 September 2017

A Day in the Life...

9.30am - Wake up.

10.15am - Meet with voice teacher about rep.

10.30am - Practice voice.

11am - Work.

2.30pm - Practice voice.

2.45pm - Check callback list.

2.46pm - Bitter disappointment.

3pm - Get hair done.

4.30pm - Do makeup.

5.30pm - Supper with dance friend.

6.20pm - Arrive at theatre.

8pm - Perform full show.

10.45pm - Return to house. Eat cereal.

12am - Start memorising new voice rep.


And I didn't even get dance practice or writing in today...

20 August 2017

Dance and Trust

Remember a couple weeks ago when I was finishing my NaNoWriMo 2016 project and I came up against my inability to trust God with my life and it hampered my ability to finish the story because I'm spiritually not there yet?

Yeah, so, it happened again. For years I've been trying to choreograph this ballet piece -- since even before I lost my faith in God. I've worked on this thing in fits and starts. I've made a Pinterest board with pictures of costumes, poses, and corps formations. I've journaled eleven pages and counting of looseleaf. I've scrapped at least three versions.

This week I've been nibbling at it again and this is the farthest I've gotten on it. I tripled the amount of dancers and finally a storyline began to take shape. The individual steps aren't there yet, but the mood progression is there now, and that's half the battle sometimes.

That storyline follows a suicide survivor alone with her grief. Guilt, shame, frustration, and anger (personified by the other dancers) dog her every move, until finally she decides to trust God with the situation though she doesn't understand it.

Clearly this last phase is the part I'm sticking at. The part I have never gotten to -- the part where the protagonist trusts. And it's for the same reason I got stuck in the novel -- the character must trust God, but I have not. How can I believably take a character where even I emotionally fear to tread? My imagination can take me a lot of places I will never be in real life, but it balks when asked to picture what trusting God would be like. My experience with trusting God is equal to the experience of betrayal. You pray for a child's life to be spared. The child dies. How do you respond to that? How do you look at the God who let this happen and say, 'yes, I will still trust Your plan?'

19 August 2017

Summer of Artistic Maintenance

It's been quiet on here lately. It's not that I don't want to post, it's just that I'm exhausted -- I've been falling asleep around 11.30 every night (a far cry from the days of three and four am just a few months ago).

Things are happening though. I've been back to working full-time in Alberta (which is the reason for being exhausted), in an attempt to somehow pull the money together for college again this fall. My course load will be significantly smaller, hopefully allowing time for work (assuming anybody actually hires me this year -- they sure as heck didn't last year).

Despite work eating most of my days and bringing night to me early, I'm actually feeling like I'm making (some) creative headway. For the past two weeks, work has been taking us a forty-minute (one-way) drive away. Because I'm not the one driving, I've been bringing Lila (my portable word processor), and writing missing scenes from Kyrie during the commute. At night I transfer the scenes to my Scrivener document and make a list of two or three scenes to work on the next day.

I'm beginning to develop some of the characters more and I may have even managed to introduce a subplot or two. I'm still writing these scenes in a fairly NaNoWriMo-ish style (put your head down and type like the wind), but having a structure to fit these scenes in is actually helping a lot. It's like building a puzzle (only this one is actually kind of fun... I hate real jigsaw puzzles). One thing I'm really noticing is that there's more conflict in these scenes -- more actual tension. Usually my books severely lack conflict because my characters are all far too nice and everyone always tells the truth right away. Over the past school year I had done a lot of character development work, and I can definitely see the difference in the new scenes.

In addition, I've (more or less) managed to keep my five-day-a-week dance practice routine up. I made a playlist called Tap Shuffle (what can I say? I'm just that clever), made of songs that are good tap songs in terms of rhythm, and almost every day I've been putting on my headphones, setting the playlist to shuffle, and doing improv for five songs. This has multiple benefits:
1. Improves my stamina (you try tap dancing for five songs in a row without stopping),
2. Works my improv/transition skills (which are nil),
3. Ensures that I don't wimp out/get distracted before about twenty minutes (the rule is I can't pause the music),
4. It maintains my skills (if not growing them... see below).

I haven't been working on any tap choreography this summer, as I don't have enough space to really dream anything out, so this summer I've been focusing on cleaning my basic, Grade 1 technique. I realised recently that my shuffles -- the foundation of basically everything else in tap -- are crap, so I've basically devoted the summer to getting my shuffles decent. (They're still not.)

I also sort-of-accidentally started doing a stretching routine after practice sessions. For years I have been trying and failing to get splits. Despite being a dancer since age six, I have never in my life had splits down, ever, in any form. I'm also doing a lot of rises to keep my calf muscles in shape. I haven't done any actual pointe work since Beauty and the Beast ended in June, so I'm trying to make sure I don't lose too much muscle before I can really get back into the studio in September.

So there's an update on my creative life. I'm hoping I can be back in Saskatchewan for school again this year. The college was a real place of refuge for me last year, and due to everything I'm working through now from my past, it would be lovely to be there in that place of refuge again this year. My support network in Alberta has almost entirely disintegrated, so I might as well be in Saskatchewan where people still care about me anyway.

14 August 2017

The People Of God

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

(Quoted in dc Talk's 'What If I Stumble?,' 1995.)

Lately, as I navigate my calling as an artist (and all it entails), coming to terms with the trauma in my past, the faith community that has by-and-large told me God can't love me because (any number of stupid self-centered reasons but mostly because God made me an artist), and the loss of several friends because I'm 'too depressed,' I'm becoming increasingly disillusioned with the whole thing.

I grew up in the Christian bubble. I freely admit that. In a lot of ways, I'm still in it. But I don't like what I'm seeing. It doesn't make sense. And it's not necessarily God that I have a problem with (although I do still have trust issues with Him due to my cousin's entirely unnecessary death in 2015). It's the people.

The people of God -- oh, that's a lofty title. The people who reflect God -- all His love and compassion and kindness and joy and wisdom and justice and gentleness and patience. The people entrusted with His work of restoring broken people and reminding them they are valuable. The people originally called 'little Christs' because they were so much like Him.

You know who the people of God really are, on an individual level?

They are that person at church who tells you you are too negative and that you need to be more happy or else you can't be friends anymore.

They are that church leadership figure that actively stifles your gift (and no-one else's) because they have a 'feeling' that 'people might not like it.' (Not 'is this a direction God wants us to go?' not 'is this gift forbidden or approved in Scripture?' not even 'does God have something to teach us through this person's use of this gift?')

They are that other church leadership figure that talks behind your back -- telling your friends not to associate with you because you're 'too negative.'

They are that friend who's been through darker valleys than you have, who literally stops talking to you BECAUSE you're 'too depressed' -- then gets upset when you go to someone else for support.

They are that friend who, even after learning you're in therapy following a suicide attempt, keeps telling you to 'get over it.'

They are that best friend who basically cuts off the friendship -- hoping you won't notice -- and when questioned, their excuse is 'you're too personal.'

They are that person who told you they cared about you and then began literally grading every email you sent them, based on 1. whether they were 'too long' or not, and 2. whether or not they had a 'good balance of positive and negative.' Without addressing anything you actually said in the email.


I sense a theme. God's ambassadors are consistently telling me that I'm annoying and too talkative and too deep and too negative. Ergo, this must be the way God feels about me too. I mean, that's what His representatives are telling me.

You know what's really stupid?

All these same people keep telling me 'God loves you...'

11 August 2017

Mirror

6 July 2017; 11.19pm.

I've been trying (again) to get somewhere on revising Kyrie -- my best (and favourite) novel to date. I'm beginning to feel a tiny bit like I'm actually progressing, but it's been emotionally difficult.

It's not much of a secret that the character Kyrie is heavily drawn from my own experience, from me. She is, in many ways, the person I wish I was. She is also, however, the person I perceive myself to be within the family unit -- rejected, despised, ignored, abused. She starts the novel as the quintessential Barbie character -- full of life and energy and quickly becoming a favourite in the local social circles. But as the novel progresses, we begin to see that the way her family treats her is smothering her, draining her... killing her.

This novel was tricky enough to write when I first drafted it. But now, to revise it while also dealing with my own (very similar) issues in counselling -- including emotional abuse from immediate family and the church -- is threatening to smother me too.

I know exactly what Kyrie was writing in her journals, feeling in her heart, when she went off her medication. Because I'm writing it and feeling it too.

31 July 2017

Camp NaNoWriMo - Day 31

(This was actually written on the 29th.)

I know what they mean when they say writers bleed on the page for all the world to see. This is the hardest novel I've ever written. And it's not for lack of ideas.

As mentioned previously, this story is a bit of an allegory. And as with nearly all my novels, there is a song driving the overall theme and/or mood. For this novel, that song is D.O.X.'s Morningstar. (I fangirl over it here.)

In that fangirl post, I mention how this song broke my heart because I know it's talking about me. In this novel, the main character in the story is me, and her biological father is searching for her -- I don't want to make this too heavy-handed or preachy, but it's a pretty clear representation of how God searches for us...

Funny how even though I haven't really spoken to God since the day my cousin died, there's still a part of me that believes He searches for us and loves us -- or maybe it's my wishful thinking, hoping that this image in my head is correct, and terrified that it's not. Maybe that's why this novel is so hard to write. The hope and the fear are threatening to pull me apart between them.

I have officially passed 50k (51,037, actually) and met my Camp goal, but I haven't finished the full storyline I had originally sketched out for this thing. Despite the fact that this novel's pre-sketched plot was probably the fullest I've ever done (usually I have sort of an opening line or maybe a two-sentence summary), I don't know how I'm going to finish this novel. Part of me is so emotionally exhausted from pulling out all my insecurities and anger and doubt and crafting it into something reader-worthy that I want to peg out as soon as the father reveals his identity to his daughter (assuming I can even get that far). But on the other hand -- this story would probably be so much richer (and the allegory factor higher) if I continue with the plotline as originally written. If I stop work on this novel now, I'll never get round to it again. As it was, it took me eight months to come back to it and add the final ten thousand words to get to 50k. I have to finish it now or else it'll never get finished.

But at the same time, my broken heart can't handle that much more of it being spilled out onto the page. It almost physically hurts to write and read back the stubborn-as-heck MC and the tender, kind father. I look at MC and see it so clearly: if you weren't so darn stubborn, he would have been able to take you in by now and you could be happy again. But even though I know it is that exact same stubbornness in me that's eating me alive, I keep being stubborn. It's killing me -- the same way it almost literally killed my MC -- but I won't let it go. Why?

I don't know. I don't know why she won't let it go, and I don't know why I can't let it go. It breaks her father's heart, but she doesn't see it. She keeps right on refusing his love. She keeps right on talking about how her father is abusive and destroyed her life and never cared about their family... if only she knew how much! I see this thread running exactly parallel through my own life -- right down to her rejection.

The thing right now is I need the daughter to accept (at least begrudgingly) is the option of living with her father -- seeing for herself that he is not abusive. But I don't know how to get her to that point because I'm not at that point. What convinces someone as stubborn as MC and I are to trust a father who we believe to be abusive -- whether or not he actually is?

28 July 2017

Music Day - We Walk On

One of the most heartbreaking commentaries on life, maturation, and time that I have ever heard. This song embodies the monotony that I have spent my life thus far striving against. Listen to these lyrics and see if something deep within doesn't whisper (or scream) there has to be more to life than this. It can't just be plodding on from birth to death with little to nothing in between.

But the longer I flounder in this thing called life, the more I fear that this song is right -- this is all there is.

Title: We Walk On
Artist: Tonio K.
Album: Olé
Year: 1997
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Even the guitar seems melancholy.

The song's musical simplicity -- acoustic guitar with the very lightest of organ touches -- highlights a seemingly effortless but nimble and haunting lyric (in the style of Mark Heard, perhaps, or a pensive Rich Mullins). As the hopeless, fruitless tale is spun an electric guitar (very much akin to early Michael Roe/77s) comes in, strident and jagged, moving in fits and starts as if sobbing.

I don't know where the days go
They turn into weeks
They turn into years
Summers turn into Christmas, and they all disappear...

14 July 2017

Music Day - Twist In My Sobriety

This is one of the few songs I bought for the musical arrangement, not the lyrics.

It's muted, hollow, deep, brooding, and can we all just take a second to appreciate that velvet alto vocal?

There's a lot of space in the mix, which gives the whole piece a sparse, haunted feel. There's enough sass in the lyrics and enough body in the vocal to give the song plenty of substance. To make it stand out from the myriad of slow '80s songs, this one features an oboe sting in the chorus that's almost sultry. The lyrical approach throughout is almost Beatle-esque, which of course adds to its appeal.

Title: Twist In My Sobriety
Artist: Tanita Tikaram
Album: Ancient Heart
Year: 1988
Label: Warner Music
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Look, my eyes are just holograms
Look, your love has drawn red from my hands
From my hands you know you'll never be
More than twist in my sobriety...