16 October 2017

Puzzle Pieces of an Epidemic

The suicide epidemic will not stop or slow unless and until people -- we who collectively make up western society -- begin to value human beings again. Right now, we don't.

Examples (and this list is by no means exhaustive):

- Porn. Sexual abuse. Assault. Harassment. (And this doesn't even include how it so often goes ignored.)

- "Go away." "Nobody wants you around." "I don't have time for you." "Later." "Stop complaining." "You're stupid." "You're a baby."

- Expectations of perfectionism in athletics and performing arts and as a child or student (and threats/abuse when those expectations are not met).

- Emotional abuse.

- Being ignored.

- Choosing TV or film over spending time with a friend who's going through a rough time.

- "So what? Get over it."

- "I was only joking."

- "You're not good enough." (Christian church of North America, check yourself on this one.)

- Staring at a screen, scrolling through Facebook  rather than spending time with a precious life.

- Abortion.

- Assisted suicide. 

- Driving like a maniac, endangering the lives of those with and around you.

- Drinking and driving.

- Dealing drugs.

- Tormenting anybody, any age (physically or emotionally).

- "It's all in your head. You're fine."

- Pretending you don't see the tears. Or the scars. (Or even the people.)

- Plopping your kids in front of an iPad/TV or locking them outside because you're 'done' with them.

- Having seven babysitters for your two kids because you 'can't handle them.' Ever. Apparently.

- Ageism.

- Racism.

- Online name-calling.

- Lack of forgiveness.

You should not have to tell us you're a loving caring person. Your love and concern for other people should be borne out by your actions.

30 September 2017

The Perfect Marionette

Originally written 6 November 2010, 5.41pm.

If ever there was a song to describe my life, I think this just might be it. 'I'm A Marionette' by ABBA (yes, the ABBA, of 'Dancing Queen' fame).

Why?

Because this is my world. Everybody's pet, just as long as I'm... perfect. Completely, totally, uncompromisingly perfect.

I am descended from a long line of perfectionists. That in itself wouldn't be so bad even if you take into account the fact that I inherited their 'perfectionism' genes. The problem is they're all out on a mission to make everyone else a perfectionist as well. Including those who already are. And most definitely those who are too weak to stand up and say 'enough.'

Unfortunately I fall into both of those categories. So not only must I contend with my own perfectionism (which is more domineering than most), I must contend with my parents', my grandparents', and... pretty much everyone else's.

This results in a tremendous amount of pressure on me. I can barely contend with my own need for absolute perfection, never mind everyone else's. But I'd rather make everyone happy than call them out on their dominating attitudes. So I work to make sure they're happy, smoothing things over, making excuses for others. I know it's all a house of cards that going to blow down eventually, but what's the point in creating wars by not caring?

I've noticed, however, that the closer to perfect I am, the higher the bar gets raised. Isn't perfect an absolute -- when you get there it can't be improved on?

They have subdued me and taken control of me. I can no longer do anything without first thinking, Who will be upset by this? They have made me their puppet, their marionette. If I'm perfect I receive lavish praise and false complimenting -- just enough to keep me going, even though I know perfectly well it's false. If in any point I fail I am left in the dirt to pick myself up -- if I dare.

It's amazing how the human person's guilt complex works. They can expect miracles from a person who they themselves had said is worthless and not feel the slightest amount of anything, much less shame. Yet when I try, fail, and then take the chance of showing my disappointment in myself, they compliment me on everything. Why?

Because they feel guilty.

They know they are the ones who have demanded this of me, but when I show even the slightest hint of emotion they feel ashamed. In order to stuff the feeling, they must 'reverse' the damage -- by complimenting me on things that don't even matter. ("You're so good at seeing colour."* Really? I suppose you see in shades of black then?)

Where is this coming from? Have they tried and failed and are now resting comfortably in their failure, looking for a poor sap to do all the perfect work for them? When I fail and show disappointment, do they panic and throw out random compliments so I don't quit and thus force them to retake the job they're too lazy to do? Or are they trying to get me out of the way -- using my own need for perfection to distract me and keep me out of their proverbial 'hair'? Do they think I'm such a threat to their place in the spotlight?

And how long can they stuff their feelings of shame before they become complete robots, running a program that leads to the 'compliment' command only when emotion is shown? They have turned themselves into cold, hard, uncaring robots and they will eventually make me one of them. They know that the more I have to harden myself to keep going, the less they will feel this guilt and have to fake something so hard to actually feel.

The rules of the game are fuzzy at best. The premise is unclear. The climax is coming but when?
And who will be left alive when the smoke clears?


* Actual 'compliment' I have received, verbatim.

27 September 2017

Punching Ice

I pretty much hit a new low this past week in my performing arts life. I'll try to give you the short story version: last week for one of my performance classes, I had to sing an oratorio. I'd never done one before, and I was pretty intimidated. It wasn't actually that difficult of a piece -- it was well within my abilities. So I learned it and soon had the melody pretty well in hand.

Until it came time to practice with the accompanist. Turns out that even in oratorio, you're still not guaranteed to get your notes in the accompaniment (I knew you didn't in art song, but I sort of assumed older music was a little more helpful). I couldn't find my notes and I floundered through both the accompanist rehearsal and the performance.

After the performance, I went to the school chapel and cried for an hour. I have never given a really good singing performance in my life, but this was undoubtedly the worst I had ever done.  You're in your fourth year. You should be better than this. There are second-year students singing better than you. Why are you even still in this program, taking away valuable time that the professors could be using to help actual talented people? For the first time I began to seriously consider pulling out of the performing arts program.

I was so discouraged that I steadfastly avoided the next week's song -- no point in trying so hard and putting so much effort into it if it was just going to suck anyway. I knew it was a defeatist attitude, but I was so tired of putting in so much time and effort and seeing exactly zero results. How long could I reasonably expect to see absolutely no improvement when I was practicing six and a half hours a week (not counting lessons)? What more could I possibly do? I was already singing until my voice gave out nearly every day. I couldn't ask any more of it lest I damage it.

I learned the lyrics to the song and memorised them, but didn't even attempt the melody until Monday. Tuesday morning I went for my voice lesson and got a thorough lecture from my teacher on how unprepared I was. She told me the reason I had so completely failed the previous week was because I had been unprepared then too. It had never occurred to me that I had been unprepared -- I had thought I did rather well to learn it that far in advance. But there was no doubt that I was unprepared this week.

"I know you're going through a lot of issues right now, but if you cannot get past the discouragement enough to put in the work, you will never go anywhere in the performing arts," she said.

I trudged back to the house after that lesson nearly in tears. I knew I was in a tailspin and I knew she was right, but I felt powerless to stop it. I was so tired of the mental fight just to do anything that I wanted to collapse and die right there on the street. My heart literally hurt. I wanted to close my eyes and never wake up. I knew I had to practice and actually properly learn the song, but I couldn't see why I should bother. I couldn't think of anything I could tell myself that 1. would make me want to practice, and 2. would be encouraging on any level. Every morning I wake up and I fight this same mental fight to live one more day. Nothing ever changes. Nothing happens. Just the exact same mental fight from the same place every day. It's like those films where the protagonist keeps relieving the exact same day over and over again. Any progress I made during the day is erased and reset at night when I sleep, and I awake every morning to the same herculean fight that I could never win, day after day after day after day. I was getting too physically tired from the battle to bother to keep fighting it in such a void. If nothing was ever going to change, what was the point of trying?

I was writing about all this in my journal over lunch today, and suddenly a mental picture flashed in my head and I wrote, Think of the Doctor, punching the ice, reliving that day. One day, maybe nine thousand years from now, your fist will shatter the last crystals and your bleeding knuckles will punch air.

When I wrote it, I wasn't sure I believed it. It still sounds too cheesy and abstract and 'easy' to me now as I read it back. But that mental picture somehow helped. I was lighter for the rest of the day and actually managed to find the motivation to practice -- again -- until my voice started to give out. I swear I practiced those two measures from A4 down to F up to D and back down to F a thousand times, trying to memorise the feel of that low F so I could find it in a void (because as usual the accompaniment doesn't have my note). My technique is probably crap (it always is), but I will know this melody come hell or high water -- or even a wall of ice twenty feet thick.

Here's the clip for the aforementioned Doctor Who episode. (Yes, it's actually diamond he's punching but I only saw the episode once, when it first aired like two years ago and I didn't remember that detail when I wrote the journal entry.)


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...

08 July 2017

Music Day - Beautiful Mystery

Here's a song I can almost guarantee you've never heard before. You hipster types, remember you heard it here first. You're welcome.

This man is one of the greatest songwriters (if not the greatest songwriter) ever to walk the face of the earth. He has forty-one years of professional experience -- this includes writing, playing, singing, touring, producing... the whole gamut. This is a guy whose been around the block a few times and lets his experience inform and deepen his songwriting. And we, the listeners, are richer for it.

Title: Beautiful Mystery
Artist: Terry Scott Taylor
Album: Bedroom Demos #3
Year: 2017
Label: Independently published on Patreon.
Only available on his Patreon page here.
If you like what you hear, please consider supporting his endeavours to make more music like this, right on his Patreon page. As a supporter myself, I can tell you that every penny you put to this is worth it.

Unfortunately, due to the rampant ageism (and the need to be 'safe and fun for the whole family' -- that is, 'no sarcasm or deep thought allowed') in the Christian music industry, Mr. Taylor and his work have been largely ignored. This is, at best, a crime against humanity. His observations and acknowledgement of the tension between art and society, faith and reason, the now and the not-yet are some of the most acute I have ever seen (and given my upbringing, church background, and post-secondary education, I've been exposed to more than your average number of theological tomes).

In this song, he explores this tension directly (cf. also his album (with his band Daniel Amos) Darn Floor - Big Bite). More specifically, he observes how people tend to try to fit Jesus into their own image of what they think He should be, how we tend to put God in a box far too small, how we try to tame the almighty God, the lion like Aslan.

When we could not grasp love this profound
We subdued it with a thorny crown
Whipped it into shape and nailed it down
Sealed the exit from the burial ground...

One last note: this song is actually a demo, recorded in his bedroom with nothing but an acoustic guitar, a MacBook, and a microphone. Yet it's deeper and more powerful than any of the tripe they're playing on hipster Spotify playlists. Its very simplicity allows the lyric to penetrate deeper.

Go take a listen. You might just enjoy it.

06 July 2017

To Those Who Survived The Darkness

As a person with severe high-functioning depression, I am often told dumb things like, 'just be happier,' or 'if you were more friendly, you wouldn't feel so lonely,' or 'it's your own fault, you know. You're too negative.'

Things like this always hurt, but I'm willing to forgive someone for saying them IF that person has never experienced depression themselves.

But in recent months, I've been hearing them from people -- good friends, even -- who know depression. They've walked this same path as me. Some of them have walked an even darker valley than I have. And by the grace of God, the sun is shining on them again. They have found a purpose in life, a reason to live. And that's fantastic. Really, it is.

But the thing is, they forget.

They forget what it's like to hate yourself so much that you literally cannot move. They forget what it's like when even a change in someone's tone of voice makes your mind spin out of control, wondering what you did and why everyone hates you all the time. And because they've forgotten, when one of their friends is in the same dark place, they spew out the same feel-good maxims that they loathed so much when they were in that same darkness.

Don't do this. Don't forget what it was like. Don't go back to that place yourself, but please remember it enough to stop you being insensitive to those of us still drowning in it.

02 July 2017

Camp NaNoWriMo - Intro

For Camp NaNoWriMo this month, I decided to finally finish my November 2016 novel. It had less than 11k left on it when the demands of college finally forced me to stop working on it. But I already had the ending of the story sketched out and I wanted to finish it eventually -- preferably this year.

Since I decided this is the month I'm going to finish it, I re-read the existing draft today to refresh myself about the characters and the storyline I'd already established. Ordinarily I don't re-read my novel drafts until well after I'm finished, and always at least a month or two after that. This, I believe, is the first time I've read through a novel draft while it was still in progress.

I don't remember any of my thought process while actually writing it. I was so stressed out and so dead tired that I mostly wrote in a half-asleep but highly anxious state. Unlike Kyrie, which consumed my every waking thought (and still does draw a lot of brainpower, even two and a half years later), half the time I forget this novel exists. So I was a little stunned at what I found.

This is a highly emotional -- even visceral -- story. There's a lot more struggle, a lot more conflict, (a lot more plot points that I can flesh out when I get around to revising it for publication...), a lot more poignancy and heartbreak here than in anything I've ever written before, even Kyrie. Basically the story follows an incredibly strong-willed (and sassy) homeless orphan, trying to survive a harsh winter on her own, too proud to admit she's struggling. Death, mockery, and rejection seems to follow her everywhere she goes and she's long since hardened her heart to it. What she does not know is that her father (who she never met) is in fact alive -- and he is looking for her. Of course, there are a myriad of dangers for a ten-year-old girl -- however feisty -- alone on the streets of a major city, and her own refusal to accept any kind of charity does not work in her favour.

Lately (as in the past year and a half or so), I've been drawn to the modern-day-parable style of writing. It's a format most people instantly connect with because it's so familiar, which makes it an incredibly powerful style of writing. It's a good way to drive home a point without being patronising, and it's surprising, actually, how much you can get away with in a 'fictional' allegory.

This is the style of this novel (it doesn't have a name yet). It's basically a long-form modern parable, and even as I, the author, read the beginning of the draft back to myself, the story affected me profoundly on a personal level. On one hand it moves slower than most of my fiction, yet it doesn't get as boring as some of my other stuff. Perhaps I'm finally beginning to learn how to pace things and not be frantic...?

The story is drawn (in a distant way) from my own life at the time I started it. Now, eight months after I abandoned it, the parallel between this novel and my life is even stronger and clearer -- so much so that it took my breath away. Even the amount of heartache in this novel weighs on me more than I expected.

There is, however, more heartbreak to come in this novel. I'm writing this blog post, in fact, in an attempt to put off making things worse for my protagonists. It's one of those it'll-get-worse-before-it-gets-better things, but the fact is I still have to write some pretty terrible afflictions before the mood of the story can turn the corner. This book needs to get written. These things need to happen. If I back out now and say 'they've suffered enough' and just skip to the happy ending, the story will lose its power. (As I write this I realise that even that sentence is a metaphor for my life... I won't get into that now, though, as that'll touch off a whole other rant. Suffice to say it hurts my heart.)

Something one of my college profs tried to drill into me over my internship was "Don't just 'try' -- do."

So here we go... I must harden my heart and write wretched things.

30 June 2017

Music Day - Dry Your Tears

Dry your tears, music fans. We have another opportunity to support decent music.

First, though, let me announce that the Adam Again Perfecta reissue campaign I mentioned last week has officially been fully funded!

I don't know a lot about this band. I own this, their debut, on vinyl, plus one song from their sophomore release, and I've heard that after those first two albums they jumped into the hard rock side of things.

This album basically is experimental electronic synthpop with lyrics written to the lonely soul. This song in particular is the traditional ninth-track slow song.

Honestly, I just needed this song tonight. My artist/dreamer soul is being crushed by the weight of merely existing. Lines like:

This life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
Ten thousand different people pass before my eyes
And every day another storyline begins
But every night you end with loneliness again...

...just resonate with me. I feel this. In every crevice of my wounded heart, I feel this.

But the band continues:

Don't let life be emotion taking you nowhere
Don't listen to the lies that tell you not to care...

I don't know if I can. But the point is, they plead with the listener to not harden their hearts. They validate us sensitive souls and tell us it's okay to feel. Sometimes that's all we need. And this theme runs throughout their lyrics (at least on this first album).

Title: Dry Your Tears
Artist: Mad At The World
Album: Mad At The World
Year: 1987
Label: Frontline Records.
iTunes here; YouTube here.
Behind-the-scenes footage of them recording this song here.

NEW ALBUM FORTHCOMING -- if everybody supports the Kickstarter project HERE. Apparently for this album, they're planning on working in their earlier electronic style, but for you rockers out there, they plan on making another album in their later style if this first one goes over well.

In a world where you see nothing everywhere
Close your eyes and pray
Heaven could be calling your name...

Five Inches

30 June 2010. Seven years ago today.

I had just gotten my driver's license a month and a half earlier. My parents had graciously bought me a (used) car, and on the 30th, my sister and I were on our way to our friends' house.

To get to their house, we had to make a left turn onto a bi-directional secondary highway. We had the stop sign, so I stopped. We were in prairie Alberta -- the land is flat and fairly clear as far as the eye can see. We were about a five-minute drive from the nearest town, and you can almost see that town from that intersection.

I was still a fairly cautious new driver, so I looked both ways twice. It had just been raining. My sister had been keeping the passenger window clear of fog with her sleeve so I could see out her window just fine, but I had to actually open my window to see down the road. Seeing no one in either direction, I began to make my turn.

Then I saw headlights coming from the opposite direction.

At first I wasn't too concerned. If I was quick enough I could continue into my lane and the truck would pass by me. I would be cutting it much closer than I would have liked, but it was doable...

As I pressed the accelerator to complete the turn more quickly, I suddenly realised that the truck was on the wrong side of the centre line. If I continued into the lane, I would hit it head on.

Something from the driving manual flashed through my head: If you must hit something and the ditch or something stationary isn't an option, try to hit something going the same direction as you are rather than head-on. I wrenched the wheel to the right, hoping I was still far enough back from the truck's path to get away with a sideswipe going the same direction. I kept my foot on the gas to accelerate my attempt to swing around. There was a flash of red in my windshield... a tremendous whoosh... the car whipped around...

We stopped moving. Without thinking, I told my sister to get out of the car and I turned to do the same. My lungs were burning. There was something in between me and the door. I pulled at it blindly, trying to get at the door handle. As I did so I realised my obstacle was the air bag.

Crap.

I knew from an accident my mother had been in years before that the air bag meant the car was totalled.

Finally I managed to get out. I didn't have the heart to even look back at the car as I ran to the side of the road where some of the witnesses were beckoning. A few seconds later I realised I had left my cell phone and ran back to the car to get it.

The car was filled with smoke and dust, but somehow I knew it wasn't on fire. I dug around between the front seats looking for the phone before finally finding it on the floor on the passenger side. The dust was irritating my eyes and it was getting harder and harder to breathe... The dust was like chalk -- thick and dry, but sticky when breathed in. After a failed attempt at getting the key out of the ignition, I merely grabbed my water bottle and went back to the side of the road.

I began to dial my dad's number, but one of the witnesses saw me with a phone in my hand and told me to call 9-1-1. I initially refused: "I have to call my dad." The witness insisted that I call 9-1-1 first. Lacking the presence of mind to formulate an argument, I punched in 9-1-1 and then handed my phone to the witness -- I had no earthly idea what I would say to the operator. From the moment I had realised that the air bag had gone off, every conscious thought had disappeared from my mind. I saw things and heard things and I reacted to them and remember them clearly even now, seven years later, but I could not formulate my own thoughts. And I was aware of that. It was one of the strangest experiences I've ever had. I remember trying to get myself to think a conscious thought, but I couldn't. Even the idea of calling my dad was coming from some internal unconscious autopilot.

I borrowed a phone from a bystander and dictated my dad's cell number to her. Years of hearing my mother quote it to customers over the phone had internalised it to such a point that even in a state of shock I could rattle it off. The witness sent the call and handed the phone to me.

He picked up, but there was a long pause before he spoke. Somewhere in my subconscious I realised that he wouldn't recognise this number on his caller ID. "Dad, it's Kate," I said as quickly as possible to prevent him hanging up. "I've been in an accident."

There was a reason I called my dad. My mother would have absolutely lost her mind -- she had just filled the car up with gas the previous night. She would have lectured me about the money I'd just wasted by totalling the car -- not to mention the inevitable increase in insurance costs.

My dad, however, is a little more able to focus on important things in an emergency. "Where are you?" he asked.

...And I couldn't remember.

I still remember sitting on the passenger seat in the witnesses' car (she had insisted my sister and I sit because we were both clearly rattled), staring straight at the highway sign, knowing it contained the information I needed, but not able to read the numbers. I struggled in vain to translate the shapes on the sign into words that my dad would be able to understand.

Finally I said, "The turn Mom told me to take." I hadn't wanted to say it like that -- it would only awaken even more of her ire because then she would think I was blaming her for this and she's HIGHLY sensitive about being blamed for anything -- but it was all I could come up with that he would understand.

"I'll be there in ten minutes," he said, and hung up. I handed the phone back to the witness and told my sister he was coming. She was freaking completely out and it was all that the witness could do to keep her seated and wait for the police. Meanwhile, the dust I'd inhaled from the air bag was beginning to burn in the back of my throat and my lungs began to feel sticky inside. I was coughing more and more in a vain effort to try and clear it, and no amount of water would take the burning away. (To this day, I suffer from a chronic cough and breathing issues.)

At some point, somebody had pushed my car to the side of the road not far from where I sat in the witness' car. It was the first proper look I'd gotten of it and I gasped.

When you draw a car, you draw the hood, then go up a bit for the cab, then down a bit for the trunk. Now imagine erasing the entire hood, or imagine cutting off the hood of the car in line with the windshield. That was what I saw. The entire front of my car was gone.

"Where's the engine?" I asked the witness.

"It's in pieces in the intersection," she said.

I half-stood and looked over the roof of the witness' car. I expected to see semi-recognisable car parts -- you know, part of a fluid tank here, hoses there, maybe jagged chunks of plastic or a few gears.

Instead, I saw shards.

Millions of shards, like shattered glass, catching the light and throwing it across the damp pavement. That was all that was left of the engine.

My dad and the police arrived around the same time. The ambulance arrived shortly afterward and checked the occupants of the truck (there had been a baby in the truck, who was the higher priority) (the baby survived -- actually they all did), then came over to my sister and me. My sister outright refused to let the paramedics check her, but my breathing was so laboured by now that I insisted they check me. I felt like I was suffocating.

They took me to the ambulance and began checking me all over: "Does this hurt?" they asked, pressing on various parts of my body. Nothing did, until they got to my throat.

"Does this hurt?" the paramedic asked, touching his fingertips lightly on my throat. It was the lightest of brushes, but with my breathing restricted already, he may as well have closed his fist around my windpipe. I recoiled instinctively, with a gasp for good measure as I tried to keep breathing.

Without another word they had me lie down and strapped me down on a back board.

"Are you taking me to the hospital?" I asked.

"Yes, for x-rays."

"Can you tell my dad where I'm going?" I asked.

"Sure." They swung the ambulance around and opened the back door. I heard them talking...

"Do you want to talk to him?" one of the paramedics called to me.

"I just want him to know where I'll be," I said.

They drove me to the hospital, no sirens, asking me questions the whole way. Name, address, date of birth, contact information, next-of-kin... then at the end of all this, they asked me what province I was in and what year it was, to establish that everything they'd just spent ten minutes taking detailed notes on had a reasonable chance of being accurate.

They took me to the hospital, but the x-ray room was in use, so they wheeled me into a room in the emergency department and left me there for the better part of two hours, with oxygen because I had been complaining this entire time that I couldn't breathe (though their instruments showed I was at 98% saturation). Strapped to a back board, completely immoblised, with the events of the previous half-hour playing on an infinite loop through my head, I had no choice but to consider what might have been -- what I'd just escaped. My dad and sister arrived and talked quietly with each other as they waited. My sister was still freaking out and my dad and the nursing staff were both trying to assure her that I was not actually dying, that these x-rays were only a precaution.

I, meanwhile, was being shocked by the brevity and frailty of my own life. Even as I lay immobile on a hospital bed, feeling whiplash set into my neck muscles, I was acutely aware that I had been given a second chance. Every second I was experiencing now was a bonus second -- one that I may not have had. I pictured what it would have been like if I had died: seeing the truck's headlights and maybe the flash of red -- and then immediately seeing the 'lights of Glory.' I realised, suddenly, that I was not done on earth. I still had a purpose to fulfil here. And there on a hospital bed, staring at the pocked ceiling because I had no other choice, I vowed I would find that purpose and pursue it with every ounce of drive I possessed. Time was short, and a long life was not guaranteed.

They took x-rays of my neck, then, as there were no fractures, let me go. My dad actually dropped us off at our friends' house anyway. Life continued. I was sore and stiff and coughing violently nearly 24/7, but otherwise it was as if nothing had happened.

Several days -- perhaps a week -- later, my parents and I went to the impound lot to look at the car and retrieve the cassettes from it (because priorities). With a few days distance from the event and now able to think in clear sentences again, I was still shocked at the state of it. One detail that particularly caught my attention was the driver's side -- the side of the initial impact.

One of the witnesses had told my dad after I had left in the ambulance that day, "At the last second, she tried to swing the other way -- that probably saved her."

This was borne out by the car itself. There were five inches between the sheared-off edge of where the front of the car had been and the hinge of the driver's door, and gradually more of the car remained the further one looked toward the passenger side. I remember thinking, my legs would have been in that space -- the space that had been torn open by the truck. Yet my legs were preserved. It was not lost on me that I might never have walked again, yet here I was, still able to walk and dance as if nothing had happened.

For a long time that catalysed my fire to keep dancing. To me it was a sign that dance was still in my future. If God had wanted me to stop dancing, He would likely have taken my legs away right there -- if not my life. But I had remained. There was still something more for me. And I determined to devote my life to finding what it was and doing it.

23 June 2017

Music Day - The Fine Line

Fell in love with this song last summer. After years of hearing about Adam Again and how great they were, it was this song that finally hooked me. It's actually about drugs -- which I know basically nothing about -- but it's so funky and cynical that I love it anyway. I don't usually like blues or jazz music, but here the band blends both genres with rock and the result is so fresh and different that you can't help but be entranced by it. If we're honest, though, my favourite part is the brooding chorus vocal from Riki Michele. It adds a little bit of sizzle to an already steaming song. My next favourite part is the syncopated guitar line at the beginning of the interlude (what can I say, it's the tap dancer in me).

Fun fact: Jon Knox of White Heart fame also drummed for this band.

Title: The Fine Line
Artist: Adam Again
Album: Homeboys
Year: 1990
iTunes here; YouTube here.

The devil in black
Break your mama's back
Feeling like a maniac...

P.S. -- There is a Kickstarter campaign NOW UNDER WAY (right here) to reissue their 1995 album Perfecta on CD and vinyl. Deadline to pledge is 30 June. Don't miss out on this! I funded last year's campaign to give Homeboys the same treatment, and I have no regrets.

17 June 2017

State of Mind - Intro

I've been working through a lot of things lately. To make a long story short, this past April I wound up in counselling (something longtime readers have probably seen coming since the inception of this blog). One day I'll probably post that story here -- it's all written out and waiting for the right time.

Through counselling, though, I've had to face the issues that I knew were haunting me and even a few that I had nearly forgotten were there... obviously the year 2015 is in there, as well as the youth group I attended as a teen, the trauma surrounding the birth of my youngest brother, and the loss of two of my best friends in the world (one to a significant move, one to death). But in our collective digging, I've begun to revisit my home life during my teen years...

I remember things being difficult at home in those years. The reason I stayed at that horrific youth group was to escape the horrors of home. But while the treatment I received at the hands of the Christian youth remained fairly fresh in my memory, the details of my life at home had not. I was in survival mode for the better part of ten years and did not have the luxury of properly encoding the memories... I was too busy trying to survive.

As a result of some of the things that have come up during counselling, I decided to go back through the draft archives of this blog and see what I had written and never published. I had originally started this blog as a place to escape (however temporarily) from the difficulties of my life at home, so I knew some of those drafts would probably touch on it.

What I found made me feel a bit sick, even though I had already lived it. I had wondered, sometimes, if I was exaggerating when I recalled those days in the counselling sessions. I wondered if perhaps I was being melodramatic -- I am, after all, an artist. But the posts I found proved that I was actually not doing those days enough justice. Things had actually been worse than I remembered them to be.

It's funny how much you can justify. It seems incomprehensible to me that someone would simply stay in an abusive situation and not attempt to get out -- yet I did that very thing. I knew even at the time that something was wrong, but I didn't realise until last week how wrong things really were. I once heard another domestic abuse victim (abused as a child) say, while talking about his experience, "I thought it was normal. I didn't know anything else. What is normal, anyway?" (It was actually hearing about that experience that made me realise that perhaps my own childhood experience had been at least borderline abusive.) Although I knew innately for years that my experience was not ideal, I thought perhaps it was just me being my melodramatic artist self reading far too much into things and being far too sensitive. To realise that it was all real and that something was at least as wrong as I had suspected... that's still kind of a blow. I'm still absorbing it.

As such, I don't really have a proper ending to this post. But I wanted to warn you all that this is where I am right now. Future posts may expand on this.

05 June 2017

If Society Could Change One Thing...

Do you want to help people who are struggling with mental illness, depression, grief, suicidal thoughts? Like, actually help them, without simply posting a hashtag that means LITERALLY nothing?

I'm serious. It's relatively simple.

It's this: don't ever say, 'you can come talk to me' or 'if you need help, call/text me' unless you REALLY mean it. Before you say this to ANYBODY, consider the possibility that we will actually take you up on it -- that one day, your text tone is going to go off at 2.36am and it's going to be that one person saying, 'hey, can we talk?'

If you are honestly not going to respond in that situation, bite your tongue. Don't make that offer.

See, the reason a lot of us don't reach out for help is because we've heard this before and we know it means nothing. People have said, 'hey, if you ever need anything, let me know,' but then when we did contact them because we needed someone, they didn't reply, or -- worse -- blew us off. (I personally am willing to give you a few minutes or even an hour or so because I don't expect everyone to have their phone on their person 24/7, but being blown off has no excuse. It means you read my text and decided I wasn't worth it.) It's hard for us to figure out who actually means it and would stay up all night for us if necessary and who's just saying it 'to be polite.'

Look -- I don't want your politeness. I live in Canada. I have politeness up the wazoo. I want your actual care and concern.

Don't say it if you don't mean it. Even if it's awkward not to say it. DO NOT say it if you don't mean it. If everyone lived like this (not saying things they don't really mean), it would ultimately mean that the depressed/suicidal people in your life will be able to be more willing to reach out to someone because then they will know that when people say this phrase they mean it. Don't contribute to the negative experiences. Don't be the last person to break their trust in humanity. Don't be the last bad experience they have before their final experience of life.

From experience: it takes an astronomical amount of courage to even go to one person for help -- no matter who it is. Even if it's your best friend. I don't know the actual statistics, but I would venture to guess that most people only attempt to contact one or two people before they get discouraged and make a permanent decision (if you know what I mean). I contacted exactly one person. I trusted that one person to recognise the danger I was in and get me the help I needed. In other words -- I trusted that one person literally with my life. I had only enough courage in my proverbial gas tank to contact one person. It used the last of my mental energy. He had to take over from me. Thankfully he did, but if he had blown me off, I wouldn't have contacted anybody else. I wouldn't have had the courage or energy to contact anybody else and I would be dead right now.

Before you say 'let me know if you need anything,' consider this: Are you willing to hold this person's life and death and their entire future in your hands one day when you least expect it?

If not, don't say it.

It's a small thing. But if everyone lives by this principle, it will change the complexion of society enough to give depressed and suicidal people a greater chance at life.

29 May 2017

Broken Magic

Written 29 May 2016.

Seventeen (now eighteen - 2017) years ago a child stood at the front of a church and watched as a covenant, the deepest and most magical of all promises, was made.

Fifteen years later she watched as it crumbled to the ground, as meaningless as a feather on the wind, only less beautiful.

And now she stands in the ruins of it, even as she prepares to be a witness to another, very similar, covenant.

The child who once stood in awe of the beauty around her now stands shattered, pieces of sharp glass held together by naught more than fairy floss, which could be cut by the glass it holds together at any second. Where once she threw rainbows of light and sparkled in the sun, she can only see darkness so thick that it can be felt, so heavy that it has the ability to suffocate.

This is what happens when the magic is broken and the covenant is disregarded. It hurts the people who created it and the people who broke it. But it also hurts those caught in the explosion, those who were at ground zero when it was initially forged, and those who watched the trust build in layer after slow layer as those fifteen years ran by, only to see it mangled by one of the very keepers of the covenant.

It is the very worst of betrayals; one of the most treacherous ones that does not end in a quick and frightening death. Instead it only initiates a slow breakdown in the world, in the way things should have been, in the way that the covenant keepers had pledged they would be.

28 May 2017

Putting On The Mask

I performed depressed for the first time in my memory last night. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done.

Literally thirty-five minutes before showtime it hit me -- all of the 'negative thoughts,' as my counsellor calls them (for some reason that sounds like a cheesy name to me -- I'd almost rather refer to them as 'the lie,' which is what my program director calls them, even though I actually believe those thoughts are the truth and have I confused you with this parenthetical comment yet?).

I've never really paid attention before to how I react when this happens. This is such a normal/frequent part of my life that half the time I don't know where one episode ends and the next begins. But because it happened in such an unnatural context (the excitement of performing is usually enough to dull the depression so I almost never experience it while performing), I was more aware of the differences in me.

I spent most of the evening trying not to cry because I already had full stage makeup on. I completely forgot about the dance in the first act -- the dance that I not only choreographed myself, but also taught to two others. I forgot the entire ending of the opening song (I never thought I'd say this, but thank goodness I'm only ensemble in this show). Whenever I wasn't onstage, I was literally crouched in a fetal position in the wings because I didn't have the strength to stand and I didn't have the strength to interact with people backstage. Never before have I had to make a conscious effort to put on a mask when I crossed the threshold of the stage. For the first time I found myself thinking, don't let them see... everything's fine, you're perfectly okay. I don't know how well I did at that -- I have never had to work so hard for a character before. Usually it just sort of happens. I remember thinking here is the real test -- can you act convincingly when you're dying inside? I don't know if I did. But I tried. I don't know if it was enough.

18 May 2017

To Love. To Fail.

After surviving a car accident in June 2010, I vowed that I would be an encouraging person. That no-one who encountered me would leave me without knowing they were loved and cared for and important.

When Brittney died, I tried to renew this vow. But the guilt that dogged me for failing to be as kind and caring as possible to her sucked my resolve dry. I had failed. And there was absolutely no redemption to be won. There was no hope of a second chance.

When my cousin died two months later, it only reinforced this. I wasn't close to my cousin, but I could have been -- should have been. I cared for her deeply, but she never knew this. And again, I was left with no hope whatsoever at a second chance to let her know that at least somebody on the planet cared for her. Yes, her parents and siblings loved her. But love shouldn't be limited to that.

By the time my cousin died I was so physically depleted and emotionally wounded that I withdrew into myself. I had failed -- twice. I'm realising this school year that perhaps the thing I fear the most is failure -- of any kind, in any area of life. To have those two relational failures slug me back-to-back convinced me that I was a failure. So I gave up. Better to not try and not fail than to make a vow (even to myself) and go back on it or mess it up -- that is, fail.

I withdrew from everyone. I waited for someone to come break my shell, to draw back the curtain and direct the sunlight onto me again.

...It's hard for me to continue writing this. On one hand, I'm still waiting. Will someone care enough to reach out to me, even through the darkness? (The logic is, if I drag myself out, it's selfish of me. What if nobody wanted me to begin with and then I just show up again, uninvited? FAIL. But if someone else comes searching for me -- that means they missed me. That means they wanted me.)

But on the other hand -- I still want to be that loving, caring, kind person, no matter what the other person is like. On some level I don't want to ask more of people, emotionally/relationally, than I can give back. (To take more than I give is -- you guessed it -- failure. No, I can't win.) I still want to 'give my heart' (as my college program director puts it) -- but 1. I don't think it's worth giving, 2. I can't handle losing anyone else, and 3. what if I screw it up again and accidentally alienate the very people I really care about? That is: what if I fail again? People are pretty graceless as a whole. Ninety-eight percent of the time you have exactly one chance. Foul it up -- say one word with the wrong tone of voice -- and you're automatically a 'killjoy' (at best) or 'toxic' (at worst).

If I could find a way to make people feel loved without screwing it up and without having to get my heart broken again -- I would leap at the chance. But I know it doesn't work like that, so now I have to choose between the two. It's an impossible choice. Either one leads to failure.

15 May 2017

State Of My Choreography

The picture that inspired this post:


Full choreography sketch for a song, conceived/written in the time it took to listen to the song straight through once (three and a half minutes). This is a testament to how far I've come: less than a year ago the same amount of choreography would have taken me a full week.

Choreography, I've found, is part inspiration, but also part experience. The more experience you have, the quicker the inspiration comes (and really, this is applicable to a lot of the arts - I see this in my writing as well). You discover what you like and where you like it. You develop a sense of where things should sit in the piece. You get a feel for the art form and you start to be able to tell innately what does or doesn't work, even if you can't explain why. No amount of book-learning can do that for you. (It kills me to say this, because I love learning through reading.)

That's why if you want to be an artist, you have to be dedicated. You have to put in the years of work before you get good. You can find quotes from artists in any discipline to the effect that you have to write a hundred songs before you begin to learn how to write a song; you have to paint or draw a hundred pictures before you really begin to understand how to draw or paint; you have to put in ten thousand hours of work before you can say you have begun to master something. Choreography is no different. I've fully choreographed 78 songs (and probably started and not-yet-completed that many again, plus I have about a dozen that I'm actively working to finish) and I'm only just starting to feel like it's coming naturally. This has been fully five years since I finished choreographing my first piece, and I was choreographing snippets of things in my head long before I ever finished that one.

That said, I would be remiss if I didn't note that I was taking ten hours of dance per week last calendar year, that I was practicing tap every day except Sundays through this past summer and again since January, that I've been watching a TON of tap dance on YouTube in my spare time, that I have a subscription to Operation: Tap's online lessons and those have been invaluable in jump-starting my practice sessions, that my tap teacher at the college this year pushed me hard (because I asked her to), that I've been clapping rhythms to almost literally every song I've heard I'm the part six months, playing with different patterns. A lot of groundwork has been laid in my foundational tap dance technique over the past year and that has gone a LONG way in allowing my choreographic voice freedom of expression.

The next step is to figure out what exactly it is that I want to express.

07 May 2017

Too Good To Be True

Written 24 January 2017, 12.55am.

A common observation by one of my college profs is that I 'fight' a lot. Not 'fight' as in 'make trouble/argue with people,' but 'fight' as in 'struggle.' Multiple profs in my program have noted that I'm stubborn and passive-aggressive. But it wasn't until Christmas break that I began to figure out why. Over the break, I was talking with a friend and somehow over the course of conversation the thought came to me: 'I'm scared it's too good to be true.'

I've loved music and dance all my life. The theatre has always drawn me. I've always loved stories. But I also grew up in a Baptist church, where the performing arts were Absolutely Forbidden (except hymn-singing and the annual Sunday School Christmas skit). Very early on my natural empathy for people (don't laugh) and my ability to memorise and understand the Bible (relative to my age) convinced people -- including myself -- that I would grow up to be a missionary.

I was okay with that -- excited, even. I loved hearing stories of other missionaries and I thought 'wouldn't it be so cool to be able to lead people to Jesus?' This was something on my radar well into my teen years, although I wasn't so pretentious as to decide exactly where I was going. I was content to wait on God for that.

In my mid-teens, performing made a resurgence in my life. It gained a further hold when I went to college and found myself almost accidentally swept into the musical theatre program. I loved every single second of it. I've made posts on this blog to that effect. But even as I was pursuing the performing arts and even as I was justifying my degree to my Christian acquaintances by saying, "The art world is so dark -- it's a mission field too," and even as I was telling myself I was training to be a more effective light in the darkness, I was scared. Not of the darkness -- there was so much of that around me I was more or less used to it. Rather, I was scared that at any moment God would snatch the performing arts -- my deepest love and often my only solace -- away from me, plop me into a 9-to-5 office job, and forget about me.

I knew God uses the arts. I've seen Him do it. There is no doubt in my mind that God loves the arts. But I had trouble realising (or perhaps believing) that maybe... maybe I was one of them. Maybe the one thing I longed for the most was also the very thing God had created me for. I knew God does need artists, but as much as I wanted to be one of them, I couldn't bring myself to believe that maybe He wanted me to be one of them too. To think that God might have actually wanted me in the performing arts was too good to be true. So I tried to ruin it for myself and get my no-doubt-impending failure over with as quickly as possible. I have almost succeeded.

I was so scared of having it taken away from me that I began to self-sabotage. I far overloaded the fall 2016 semester with classes and then added a couple fairly sizeable creative projects with deadlines on top of that. Every time I practiced voice, I would almost subconsciously do exactly the same thing as before, and then complain that I was not improving (this, I think, was at least part of the 'fight' my professors were referring to -- they kept telling me what to do to improve, and I kept not doing it). I started turning in half-done papers and skipped more classes in the last two weeks of the semester than I ever had in my entire education up to that point. I absolutely stopped trying in dance class. During voice recital/performance/finals week (when I should have been sleeping the most for the sake of my voice) I stayed up for 65 straight hours working on four major projects for three classes. My vocal master class prof straight up told me after the final dress rehearsal for the class final performance, "Go home and go to bed," to which I replied, "I can't." I wanted nothing more than to do exactly as he said, but I had a presentation to research and create before 8.30 the next morning -- a presentation that would have already been done if I hadn't overcommitted myself so badly elsewhere. I was texting my best friend back home things like, 'would it really matter to anybody if I killed myself?' -- texting her these things because I knew she was too far away to stop me. I was in a complete tailspin, and it was pretty much self-inflicted.

I fought my professors' advice and/or help at almost every turn, even though they probably wanted to see me improve just as much as I did. But I couldn't believe that might be the case. I couldn't bring myself to trust them, and I certainly could not bring myself to believe that maybe God wanted me here, in the arts, in this program, developing my skills. I kept telling myself the professors were only investing any time at all in me because I was spending money to be in their classes. After all -- that's all I've ever been good for, right? As for God, I had long since given up on His love for me.

So I subconsciously kept myself from doing what I wanted more than anything, so that God wouldn't have to break my heart again. If my life was going to get screwed over again, I was going to be the one doing it. I didn't need the church or my relatives or God breaking my heart anymore. I started breaking my own heart, berating myself on their behalf, to save them the trouble. I told myself everything that everyone else had told me for all these years: 'you're only worth something if you have a good job and make a lot of money,' 'you're annoying,' 'you're in the way,' 'nobody likes you,' 'nobody wants you around,' 'nobody asked you,' 'we don't need you here,' 'who said you could talk?' 'you can't do anything right,' 'maybe it's time to give up.' After all, even God's church gave up on me -- telling me, however, implicitly, that God doesn't want artists.

And I believed all of it. I believed that this love for the performing arts and this tiny seed of talent that I did have meant nothing, that God had simply put them in me to confuse me and to make it hurt more when His true purpose for me -- which, obviously, would probably include an office job and many early mornings and no alone time whatsoever -- was revealed. It wasn't until this semester (note that it's still only January) (EDIT: It was January when I wrote this, although many of the sentiments remain the same now, in May) that I began to wonder if maybe there was a reason He built this into me. Maybe He wants me to be a performing artist. But I'm too scared to believe it. It seems too good to be true.

01 May 2017

The Silence of the Storyteller

Written 14 April 2017, 1.08pm.

Do you know what it's like to pour your soul out in writing to fifty people and have not. one. person. acknowledge your existence?

I go through this every week. But I suppose that's the life of an artist. This is what I wanted. I made my bed, I guess I have to lie in it.

I'm a storyteller at heart. I always have been -- in writing, in acting, in music, in photography, in dance. It would make sense that this innate part of my soul would come to full force in writing -- when I write my update emails from college.

But in today's age of social media, nobody wants to hear stories. They want sensation. They want soundbites. They want Upworthy. They want BuzzKill -- I mean BuzzFeed.

So they lash out at me for talking too much. And then they withdraw from my life because I demand too much of their time and attention.

I have a storyteller's soul. And they hate it.

There's an entry in my journal from June of last year (on the subject of the five love languages): 'Acts of service children are good, helpful little children. Quality time children are just little time sucks -- always taking, but never giving back -- at least not in a 'tangible, helpful, productive' way. No wonder everybody hates us.'
I say 'children,' but this really means 'people.' We're all children at heart.

I go for my first counselling appointment on Monday. I'm scared that they actually will be able to help me. The only way I can get anybody's attention is to whine about how awful my life is. People will give you some (tiny) measure of sympathy/attention (for a limited time) if you're going through a hard time. It's underhanded and manipulative, but I am so desperate for something, ANYTHING, from anybody, that I am about willing to do anything. But if counselling helps with my issues and I'm no longer struggling, I lose the very tiny sliver of care that anybody ever had for me. Then I well and truly am alone. After all, think of how we talk to each other:

C1: Hi! How are you?
C2: Good. You?
C1: Good!
*awkward pause*
C1: Well, better get going.
C2: Yeah... I guess...

C3: Hi! How are you?
C4: Meh. Not great.
C3: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. What's going on? Can I help?
*insert moderately lengthy conversation*

So basically, the only get to get any length of connection with another human being is to have a sucky life. The thing is, all the Pollyannas of the world hate the people who have a sucky life -- "it's the power of positive thinking," they tell us. "If you think your life is going to suck, then it will." And "nobody wants to hang out with you if you have a sucky life *insert some kind of 'negative vibes/toxic people' crap*."

TL;DR: Just spend some time with me. Just talk to me. Just listen to me. That's literally all I want.


'We shot all our dreamers and there's no-one left to lead us...'
- Larry Norman, 1972

'I need some contact... I'm so tired of talking to an answering machine.'
- Prodigal, 1985

29 April 2017

The One

The first time anyone actually told me that I was valued in any capacity was at the very end of my second year of college. That was the semester the school put on The Secret Garden. It was my theatrical debut, and I played Mary Lennox -- the main character. It was a role I absolutely did not expect to get. The director of the show was also the director of my program (both the program I was in at the time and the program I'm in now). After the show was over, after all the exams were done, just days before grad, I was in his office -- he had been trying for months to convince me to transfer into the Bachelor's degree, which would take an additional two years. I had finally decided to at least see what it would look like if I did, so we met and went over how my academic life would look if I stayed.

After the discussion on academics, he shifted into 'convince-her-to-stay' mode (or at least that's how I thought of it at the time), because I was still not committing and there was less than a week before I graduated out and then it would be too late. Because I had just stunned everyone on campus with my ability to act in The Secret Garden and because he had directed it, that show was a large focus in the conversation. At one point, he was talking about the process of casting and how it's always kind of a crapshoot on some level, and he said, "Sometimes I get it wrong and sometimes I get it right." He looked at me. "With you I got it very right."

I sat stunned.

I had spent twenty years being told -- both by people close to me and by people on the periphery of my life, verbally and non-verbally -- that I was unimportant. Useless. Annoying. No good at anything. And if you're told something often enough -- by enough people, and by people you are supposed to trust -- eventually you begin to believe it. And the more you hear it, the more deeply ingrained it becomes in your thought process. It's called indoctrination. I had thoroughly believed that I had no importance or usefulness or value whatsoever. In anything. I fully believed that I ruined everything just by the mere fact that I existed and was just wasting valuable oxygen that could have been used for other, more important people. People that others actually needed and liked.

Sure, I grew up with people telling me God loves me, but I had no reference point for that. What is love? His people pretended I didn't exist as much as they possibly could. Because I was so quiet and shy, they could get away with being downright rude about it because I'd never say anything about it and they knew it. I certainly saw it, but I never said anything. Who could I go to? Nobody would have listened to me anyway -- they were all too busy ignoring me.

I tell this story because I am up against this again. Recently I hit my absolute lowest point, and it scared me enough to send me to this same director and tell him I needed help. (He was literally the only person I could think of who I knew would properly listen to me.) He's told me many things in the days since then which have given me the strength to keep fighting, but one of those things was a question: 'why do you believe this lie?' At the time he asked it, I was so exhausted from fighting just to stay alive that I couldn't think of an answer, but the question haunted me: Why do I believe the lie? And it brought me to all these reflections that I shared above -- for twenty years of my life, it was all I knew. It was all I was told. I had literally no reason to believe otherwise.

There was a flash-in-the-pan Canadian boy band in the late '90s/early 2000s that made this song that received fairly significant radio play when I was a kid. It was actually one of those cheesy 'follow your dreams' songs, but if I may shift the context a bit... the chorus ran as follows:
You could be a star shining out in the darkness
You could be a fire blazing into the cold
You could be a voice calling into the silence
You could be as bright as the morning sun
You could be the blue sky after the grey
You could drive the clouds of fear away
You can bring the healing to a world that's come undone
You could be the one...
(Jake, You Could Be The One, 2000)

And you could, dear reader. Just as a college performing arts director was the first person on the planet to tell me I was worth something -- when I was already into my twenties -- you could be the first one to tell someone else that they're worth something. Go do it. Don't wait. You may be the only one who will.

28 April 2017

Music Day - A Briefing For The Ascent

Two years ago today my cousin stopped breathing. And she never started again.

A lot of bitterness and anger has marked the past two years. The death of a child, even if it's not your own, changes you -- permanently. And when that child's death is at the end of four hard months of intense academics and other assorted family issues AND the death of a very close friend, it can break you. I am only just beginning to actually process what happened to my cousin. I've spent the past two years working on the backlog of all the crap that happened before her final asthma attack.

But in recent weeks, I have finally begun to approach that date -- 28 April 2015. Thinking about this is one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. Even as I type this, that date and what it means threaten -- in a very real way -- to destroy me.

For two years I have screamed at the empty blue sky, screaming for God to answer me -- where were You that night? Why didn't You hear us? Doesn't our love for her mean anything to You? And if You couldn't keep her here with us, couldn't You at least comfort us in her absence? I have heard largely nothing -- not from God.

But He has created and sent us an artist, a man by the name of Terry Scott Taylor, a man who himself endured loss -- but who was also given peace in the midst of the loss and a talent for songwriting to express the intensity of the emotions.

This man, this artist, wrote a beautiful song of release in 1987, and it appeared on his second solo album -- the second solo album born out of terrible loss. The first song, the title track, began with the journey between the two worlds:

Take a burning spear and the Saviour's promise
Ride a horse of air through the burning forest
With our Father's faith and a child's wonder
Down the halls of grace -- by His mercy go under
It will seem so sudden
Yes, but through God's will
The season will dream and time will stand still...

And it was so sudden -- how suddenly one missed breath can become two, three, four... and eventually beyond the hope of starting again. The horse may be made of air, and so was her life -- take the air away and it's gone. To say death is a mercy -- well, that's a matter of perspective. I am still too bitter about this to comment on it, although I suppose for her at the moment, it probably was. But time does stand still -- on both sides of eternity. In many ways I am still -- two years later and in another province -- sitting stunned in a chair at the kitchen table, feeling my heart shatter into a thousand cold pieces without a sound.

Close your eyes and rest secure
Your soul is safe, your body sure...

'Your body sure' -- even as it turns against you, even as it starves you of the oxygen it needs. Christianity teaches that the body will rise again at the last day, and this is what Taylor is referencing here, but it still sends a twinge of something through me -- irony, perhaps.

But the part that broke me the other day was the next line:

He that loves you is He that keeps
The One that guards you never slumbers, never sleeps...

When I last listened to this song, once again begging God for peace, if not answers, Where were You? Did You ignore us? this line hit me: He was not sleeping. He was carrying her -- carrying her beyond the wall of sleep, beyond the stars. Away from us.

I don't know how I feel about that. Yes, she is safe in His arms. But she is not here.

It will seem so sudden, but you will laugh as you run
You will wash in the river, you will shine in the Son...

And yes, she is laughing, and running, breathing freely. But what of the rest of us, whose every breath is shot through with pain from the sharp shards of a shattered heart? What of us, the broken hearts in waiting?

I don't know. The song doesn't address that. Rather, it takes a posture of yearning but contentment -- waiting for the reunion.

Title: A Briefing For The Ascent
Artist: Terry Scott Taylor
Album: A Briefing For The Ascent
Year: 1987
Label: Frontline Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.
Artist Patreon page here.

Even the instrumentation is light and airy, floating up, up, beyond our reach, with her and her Guard -- gentle acoustic guitar, mellow steel guitar, open drums, and the lightest of keyboard touches. It's heart-wrenching and soothing. One of the greatest songs Terry Scott Taylor has written to date.

24 April 2017

Friday Happened - A Rant

Friday happened -- but Sunday's coming.

This was a common sentiment on my Facebook page over Easter weekend this year. Right from the first it seemed odd to me. I'd never heard it before -- and I grew up German Baptist in the Bible belt and am currently attending one of the oldest, most recognisable Bible colleges in the country. Believe me, I know all the cheesy phrases.

But the main thing that bothered me was how much this little statement trivialises the pain and grief of Good Friday. It brushes all of it aside with a wave of the hand and a 'yeah, yeah, that's not important.' But it is important.

Maybe I'm more sensitive to these things because I have gone through hell the past two years and have had all of it waved aside by nearly everyone I know (I do say, 'nearly' -- there are about two or three people who 'get' it or at least valiantly try. I treasure them greatly).

The sermon at the Easter Sunday service I attended focused on Mary Magdalene on the first Easter morning. It was a phenomenal sermon, but one of the things that he emphasised that I really appreciated was just how despondent Mary was that day. Any other time in the Scriptures when an angel appears, the human they visit falls down in fear and trembling and takes them seriously. Not Mary -- the angels of God are telling her that Jesus is alive, and her grief and despair is so thick that the freaking angels of God can't penetrate it. (This wasn't one of his points, but it's something I thought of: most times in Scripture there is only one angel at these kinds of things. But here there was more than one. That's a very unusual occurrence, yet their message still failed to get through to her.)

Furthermore (back to his sermon) -- the thickness and heaviness of her despair (depression) is so great that Jesus Himself shows up and she almost misses him too.

People -- grief can be intolerable. Even in three short days it clouded Mary's vision to the point she could not see that the best thing that could have happened in the wildest childhood story had actually happened in real life.

You cannot brush the grief and despair of Good Friday aside with a mere 'yeah, yeah, it happened.' If you're going to remember and commemorate an event, you have to at least try to feel what our spiritual ancestors felt that day. That's the only way you can do justice to it. Sit with the grief a bit. Feel the heaviness of it. The good news of the resurrection will mean nothing without the emotional backdrop of grief to give it context. No, it's not a pleasant feeling. Suck it up. Get out of your comfort zone for half an hour and realise just how dark the darkest day was. You cannot see the light of Easter morning properly without realising just how bleak things really were. And then you will take the light of Easter morning for granted because you have no emotional reference point for it. Don't just share a Facebook meme and think you've done your duty. Think -- really think -- about this weekend. It's not about duty. It's about love -- actual, real love, with action, not lip service. And pain -- actual, real pain, that changes things permanently. And how they intermingle.

Yes, Sunday's coming... but Friday happened.

Don't trivialise the pain. Don't trivialise the grief. Don't trivialise the weight of the despair. Don't just assume anybody 'gets over it' in five minutes. You don't. And some of us are so blinded by it that we are unable to see Jesus Himself standing in front of us, calling our name. Don't mock us or get upset at us for having a worse life than you -- often through no fault of our own. We ask your patience, your listening ear, your gentle restoration, and your constant prayer, not your rolled eyes, your self-help tips, and your holier-than-thou attitude.


You're too afraid of hurting
Been playing cover-up
Expose yourself to dying
And in this real world
It is your calling...

You've been a wide-eyed innocent
Come to the garden
Come to the hill
Come to the tree
Come to the kill
Won't break your bones but it can break your will...

~ Daniel Amos, 1983 (Angels Tuck You In)