28 December 2017

Rediscovering Choreography...

My official plan for National Choreography Month 2018 is more or less drawn up. I deliberately overplanned it, so I don't run out of songs halfway through the month like I did last November. I've also done a rough outline of choreography projects I want to accomplish over the next full calendar year. And I am SO excited for all of it. It's taking a lot of willpower to not start nibbling on the Nachmo list now.

So in order to satisfy the choreography bug while not starting on my January projects, I decided to revisit a ballet project that I have wanted to do for literally years. I had started it in early 2016, but then a(nother) series of discouraging/frustrating life events and then performance season happened... the latter altered my time-management habits just long enough to disrupt my choreography 'schedule' (such as it was), and the former sucked the last wisps of wind out of my proverbial sails and plunged me into a deep, soul-eating depressive episode that almost ended in suicide. From about April 2016 till this past November, I created almost literally nothing, nothing of substance.

Even during that indescribably dark time, I would occasionally think about this particular piece and think, I really should finish that. It's probably one of my best concepts ever, and I was always quite excited about it. But the fact that it probably is one of my best ideas also terrified me. Could I do justice to the concept? Would refining the abstract concept down to specific counts and movements ruin the big picture in my head? (The nature of the piece and the props I'm using for it are also notoriously difficult to notate.) Knowing that the finished piece would require seven dancers -- six on pointe -- to perform was also disheartening. After all, what was the point of creating this great piece if no-one would ever see it because there's no-one to perform it? But the fact that it was sitting there half-done finally bothered me enough that as of yesterday I've gone back to it.

I spent a day re-learning it -- figuring out how far I had gotten and going over what I've already done and notated. Again I'm reminded why I take SUCH detailed notes of my own choreography. I hear so many choreographers say they never write anything down, and honestly I think that's a huge mistake. Not only does your work not survive after you're gone, it's very possible that the work may be lost while you're still alive. Memory fails even before death becomes an issue. This piece would have been completely lost if I hadn't written it all down. Because it was so long ago, I remembered literally nothing except the abstract concept. Not one of the steps or sequences remained in my memory. I would have had to start completely from scratch and in a dance this emotionally (and practically) complex, you want as much of the work already done as possible and you really do not want to try to reconstruct the thing. You never think when you set a work aside for the day that you may not touch it again for nearly two years. Taking detailed notes allows for that possibility and is your safety net in case the possibility becomes a reality. (Also, having dated and detailed notes may be useful if there's ever a question of copyright at some point in the future...) But I digress.

I was surprised to find I had laid a darn good foundation. I've learned/absorbed a LOT about choreography and form in the past two years and half-expected this piece to look juvenile... but honestly I had set myself up really well. I had a handful of solid motifs for my pointe dancers and some pretty good character work done for everyone involved. Even the prop work didn't feel 'cheesy,' even though I hardly ever work with props and fully expected my lack of experience to be glaring. I choreographed the next thirty seconds of music in less than half an hour -- which is incredible for seven dancers, especially for someone who really hasn't choreographed ballet in two years.

As usual, I have no wrap-up for this post because the story's still being written, the dance is still being choreographed. But I am SO EXCITED for the choreography to come -- in this dance, in Nachmo 2018, and in the next year.

27 December 2017

New Video!

After years of dreaming and overplanning, I finally bit the bullet and created a dance video.

I'd actually tried to film this piece last year, but couldn't get the lighting right. I set it on the back burner for school, then work, then school again. At the end of November, my roommate and I had a conversation that inspired me to move ahead and film one of my other overplanned limbo projects. That one proved to be more complicated than I anticipated, plus there were about a thousand other people trying to rent the filming venue at the same time. So I set my sights on something shorter and simpler (and quicker to film). I wanted one video done by the end of 2017. A friend and I cobbled together as many lights as we could find and shot this in about forty-five minutes the Wednesday before Christmas break. I edited it in the week between my return home and Christmas.

Here it is: https://youtu.be/27qAVyz8B7k

Enjoy!

16 December 2017

Choreography Ramblings

13 December 2017, 5.46pm.

That thirty-day choreography challenge has been SO good for me. I am in a MUCH better place mentally and emotionally right now, and I have momentum and motivation for at least one aspect of my creative life (my writing is still pretty dead in the water -- one of the reasons I haven't posted here much lately). I'm starting to tiptoe into the next phase of my choreographic dream... I don't want to get into too much detail until I'm in the final stages of this phase.

This is probably the phase of this whole dream that intimidates me the most. It's the phase where I have to start getting other people involved. For someone like me, who has spent her whole life trying to be independent, trying not to be a nuisance, trying not to need other people for even a few seconds, it goes completely against over a decade and a half of self-discipline even just to ask if my friends would be willing to help with this. I feel more vulnerable asking my friends for help than I do filming myself doing brand-new (raw and unedited) choreography on my phone and then posting it all over social media.

I've already been planning National Choreography Month in January. I am more excited for this thing this year than any other year I've done it. I blame the thirty-day challenge last month for that. Usually for Nachmo (that's what it's called...) I do something like, 'choreograph X number of dances this month.' This January I was going to modify that to 'thirty-two (or sixty-four) counts per day,' but having just done that this November, I want something a little more challenging than that. I haven't settled on exactly what that looks like yet, but I have a few viable ideas.

The other problem is I don't do a lot of solo choreography. Most of the music that inspires me is more suited for groups (or at least two or three people). I used up everything that inspired any kind of solo dance in November for the challenge. So now if I want to show off anything I choreograph, I'm going to need to find other dancers. This terrifies me, for the same reasons mentioned above -- I hate imposing on people, to the point where I will go without if it means I don't ask anything of anyone. People have such busy lives now that asking for a mere ten seconds of their time is often intimidating -- never mind days or weeks.

15 December 2017

Trust, Continued

As I mentioned around the end of last year, I was thinking a lot about trust.

It's a word my professors here use often -- 'trust yourself,' 'trust the process,' 'trust God,' 'trust your practice,' 'trust (teachers)' -- and I couldn't do any of it. Years of manipulation and emotional abuse had told me very clearly that nobody could be trusted. The decimation of everyone I ever cared about in 2015 led me to conclude that even God could not be trusted.

When you can trust nobody else -- not even God -- all you have left is yourself. This terrified me. I knew I would let myself down, but I had nothing else. So I trusted only myself, and if I screwed something up, I did what I had learned in childhood, the only way to maybe escape a tiny amount of the consequences of failure -- I beat myself up about it. (If you beat yourself up about it enough, sometimes the person you've disappointed/angered will be placated... Sometimes.) There was no forgiveness until there was improvement. Of course, this kind of pressure makes improvement almost impossible, but I knew no other way. To forgive myself for a mistake before I had seen improvement felt like accepting mediocrity. I have been overlooked and ignored and passed over my entire life because there is always someone better than me. Mediocrity is a death sentence. To accept it was unforgivable.

In the end, I could not really even trust myself, and I knew this. I kept letting myself down, but in the absence of any other viable options, I kept re-placing my trust in myself... knowing it was fruitless and I would end up frustrated. Trusting myself wasn't the ideal option, but it was the best option out of a very limited pool of choices.

This cycle wound me up so tightly that all I wanted was to make it stop. I wanted off the merry-go-round of constant failure. And the only way to stop failing is to stop trying...

I attempted suicide on 8 March. The knowledge that I could no longer trust myself took on another, very vivid, meaning.

By the end of the month, things had gone about as far as they could go. It was no longer a matter of if I was going to die, it was a matter of when. Something had to give. I could not trust myself, and I could no longer pretend that I could. I had to find someone.

At the beginning of April, I expanded my circle of trust to two -- myself, and a prof. I told him what was happening -- trusted this prof literally with my life. And then I trusted another teacher with the story. And then a counsellor. And then three friends. I could almost physically feel weight coming off my weary heart with every retelling of the story, every connection with someone who -- it turned out -- cared about me.

But trust isn't a switch that flips on and off. It's a habit. I had spent twenty years building a habit of not trusting anyone, of questioning everything anyone said (especially if it was nice) because they were likely to go back on it anyway, of figuring things out for myself because sooner or later those who said they'd help me would give up on me. There were moments now, acts of trust, but not a habit. I still didn't really believe any of these people who knew the story were in it for the long haul -- nobody ever was. I figured I might as well plan to keep carrying it myself, because eventually that was what was going to happen anyway. Twenty years of being used for sympathy had taught me that the phrase 'I'm here for you' has an expiry date.

I was trusting a select few now, but I was cautious. With my heart in such a fragile state, I could NOT afford to have my trust broken again -- it would mean almost certain death. They say to choose your friends well, but everyone looks good on the surface, How do you know who really will stick with you? Does any human even have that much patience?

Although the darkness I was in in March never really lifted to begin with, in September it made another violent assault, and at the end of October, its fury increased tenfold. I lived for weeks on the verge of complete (mental/physical) collapse. There were about five consecutive days where I would sit in the living room and wonder if I should call 9-1-1, if I would survive the next twenty minutes.

Trusting only in myself for so long means I can be very self-disciplined. Last school year I had begun to be particularly intentional about daily habits like dance and voice practice, eating healthy, and getting fresh air (most of these I was trying to do anyway, but last year I began to keep track of how much I was actually doing any of this). Upon returning to school in September, I returned to more or less that same routine -- practice voice, practice dance, walk to school and back, keep track of nutritional intake and make meal adjustments throughout the day as needed, at least attempt to go to bed earlier than 2am, doing all of these even when I really did not feel like any of it mattered to anybody.

After a while, I found myself thinking, 'if you do this (daily discipline mentioned above), you'll feel better.' At first a common retort was, 'no it doesn't. It never does.' But by the end of November I actually began to feel joy again -- for the first time in a long time. I distinctly remember bouncing around the kitchen one day, then suddenly asking, 'what am I so excited for?' I still don't know what I was excited for, but I decided not to question it. For the first time in literally years, I was happy.

And I realised that implementing all these little things, even when I didn't feel like it -- that was trust, on some level. That little voice saying 'you'll feel better' was onto something. I was trusting that maybe eventually it would result in something or mean something. It's fairly widely known that singing, dancing, fresh air, and good nutrition all improve mood from a scientific perspective... and over time, they actually do. They don't tell you that sometimes the effect is cumulative. I feel like that knowledge would help a lot of people, so here it is -- keep doing these things. Trust that the benefits come after consistent practice, not after one session.

Once that clicked in my head, suddenly a bad practice session was no longer cause for suicidal thoughts (I am not kidding -- a bad practice session would literally end with me writing a prototype suicide note. This was not an infrequent occurrence -- my attempt in March happened immediately after a frustrating dance practice). I was suddenly able to tell myself that one rough warmup did not mean my voice (or my body) was shot for the rest of the day -- and I was actually able to believe that.

Make no mistake -- everything is not perfect. I'm still reluctant to say it's even 'okay.' Trusting all that practice to actually result in improvement sometime down the line is still difficult, especially in singing. I still feel so far behind to begin with, and because I was in such a dark place for most of the semester, my singing suffered greatly. As a result, so did my performance. As a result, so did my self-confidence. As a result, so did my professors' trust in me to take on any responsibility at all onstage. I may never get another speaking role at this college (or possibly anywhere) because I showed very clearly this semester that I do not deserve one. And as much as it pains me to know this: that is absolutely fair. That whole downward spiral this semester makes singing so much harder now, with all those horrific performances in my very recent past and my instinct to beat myself up -- to only forgive when improvement is made -- still so strong. I'm trying to take solace in knowing that the concept of 'trusting' -- in the way my teachers/professors describe it -- makes more sense now.

I only hope it isn't too late to do anything with this understanding -- that I haven't managed to sink my career for good.

09 December 2017

Society, Silence, and Christian Expectations - A Brief Rant

Found in the Notes app in my phone. I still stand by this.

K. Rant time.

I am sick of society DEMANDING we keep silent about the things that bother, hurt, or frighten us. I am tired of people expecting everyone to always be happy and always be okay. I am tired of people misinterpreting others' pain/struggles as 'they're just looking for attention' or 'they're just whiny.'

I hate this unwritten code of silence. And it's at its absolute worst in the churches and 'Christian communities' of North America.

Christianity, by definition, follows a guy WHO WAS BETRAYED BY HIS FRIENDS AND EXECUTED BY THE GOVERNMENT, yet somehow Christians expect everyone's life to be trouble-free? To the point where if you DO struggle, you're blacklisted because it pokes holes in their theology?

That's not Christianity, people. That's Cloud Cuckoo Land.

27 November 2017

Life Update

Written 16 November 2017, 11.52pm.

It's November and I haven't posted a single thing about NaNoWriMo... for the very simple reason that for the first time since 2009, I'm not participating.

I wanted to -- I really did. But I had no story idea whatsoever. The last two years of the event were a huge struggle for me already... I felt so little connection to my 2015 novel that I often forget it exists, and in 2016 I failed to make 50k for the first time ever. On the back of those two years, I knew I would not be able to force a novel out of myself this year (though I have more free time to write now than I think I ever have).

I decided to do a self-imposed 30-day choreography challenge instead. I made a rule to choreograph no less than 32 counts (four sets of eight) per day and post the results on my Instagram page (for accountability). I'm not even halfway through the month and I'm seeing huge amounts of growth in my technique and creativity (I figured out nerve taps!), but the response of the public has been growing steadily less enthusiastic.

On a personal level, this was just the challenge I needed. I've been wanting to choreograph the 77s' Ping Pong Over The Abyss for forever, and I finally did it this month. I've also done some of Michael W. Smith's Christmas music, a sizeable chunk of Prodigal's I Don't Know Who You Are, and a duet that my sister requested. Currently I'm working on The Kimberlites' Gigajig and -- although it hasn't hit my social media yet -- the Piano Guys' Where Are You, Christmas? I've wanted to do this for a while as well, to encompass how broken Christmas feels with so many people missing. A lot of loss has surrounded me in the past while -- my own, certainly, but a lot of others around me have lost people close to them too. I've had two friends lose their fathers unexpectedly in less than two weeks. The growing, rushing waves of grief in the instrumental half of the song pretty accurately capture the yearning and fury that swirl around us who grieve; who have to put out one less table setting at Christmas dinner.

School is okay. I'm quite frustrated actually. This was supposed to be my penultimate year, the year when all the hours and hours of hard work (especially last year) would finally begin to pay off, to blossom. I had a few pretty lofty goals, and previously attaining difficult things has not been a big problem for me. I hoped to land a place in the elite-level choir, to get a larger role than last year in the massive Christmas musical, to maybe even get a singing part in the Remembrance Day and opera shows. The opera show remains to be seen (it's in February), but I didn't even get called back for the choir, and not only did I not get a larger role in the Christmas musical, I actually got a significantly smaller one. No lines, nothing. It's a half-step from no role at all. In my angrier moments I'm almost tempted to drop out and not even bother. I asked the director how to improve my acting in general (because I would assume that at least most of the people who actually got roles must be better at acting than me) and long story short, he literally told me to be more cheerful in my everyday life (this directive makes more sense in the context of multiple conversations we've had over the past year).

I was so desperate I actually tried it. It worked for a week, and the effect was dramatic. Both the director and my voice teacher commented on the difference in me. Even I was beginning to see a difference in myself.

But a week after that conversation with the director, at the end of my first week of actually trying, my dear friend attempted suicide. In one text, everything that was still going for me was undone. If she could kill herself, why couldn't I? What was to stop me finishing what I had started last March at the side of the highway?

I broke. There was no point to anything. I was going to die anyway and it's not like I would be missed... it wasn't like I had a role in anything. I gave up, and the director saw that immediately though he didn't yet know what had happened. Because of the nature of the whole thing I was not allowed to say anything about it to anyone -- including literally all the people in my support network who I would ordinarily go to immediately to keep myself from spiralling down again. Because I couldn't tell anyone, it all just kept rattling around in my head, growing quietly bigger in the dark silence that was imposed on me.
But I did say something, two weeks later -- I was so messed up by the whole thing that I was at the point of physical collapse. I'm a master secret-keeper (I was suicidal for twelve years before ANYBODY knew about it), but privacy rules or not, I could not, for my own safety, keep this inside. It was affecting me far too deeply. If I kept quiet, I was going to end up dead. My heart was literally starting to fail. So I brought one of my instructors into it. She brought the director into it. There were repercussions for me for telling either of them about it, but I was beyond caring. My own suicidal thoughts had strengthened and multiplied and I was caving very quickly in the onslaught. To say nothing kept me out of trouble and kept everyone happy. But to break the rule -- to say something, even to a very select few, kept me alive. Which was the more preferable option...?

But I can't help but think that now it's too late. Because of my dramatic improvement and equally-dramatic crash within the space of ten days, I succeeded only in proving myself as wildly inconsistent. And the inconsistent performers are the first ones cut from the list of potentials. I have five months left in the fourth year of my undergraduate degree. And it's very possible that I have destroyed my second chance at the only thing I ever wanted to be -- a performing artist.

I instituted the choreography challenge partly as a way to distract myself from my own desire to die and to get away from the sound and the press of everything crashing down around me. Since I'm not in any upcoming shows, I have no lines to learn or rehearsals to attend to keep me distracted so I had to manufacture my own distraction. And since apparently nothing's going to be handed to me on any kind of a platter -- never mind a silver one -- I have to manufacture my own fanbase somehow. It's on me now to create my own job experience, to develop my own craft on my own time, and drum up interest in my creative endeavours without any outside help or promotion. I'm not sure how it's working because, as I mentioned earlier, the enthusiasm on both my Instagram and Facebook accounts seems to be fading fast. Maybe they're all just 'hiding' my posts and not even looking at them at all...

But the process itself is keeping me distracted. And I have accomplished a fair bit. Maybe one day this will all be useful and one day all these long hours of thankless practice and all those tears (so many tears) will be worth something to someone.

23 November 2017

Challenge Retrospect

When they call it a thirty-day 'challenge,' they mean it.

I started doing a 30-day choreography challenge on a whim on 2 November. Initially I said it was because I wasn't doing NaNoWriMo and felt I should work on some creative project for the month of November. That was true, but there was a second reason that I didn't make public: I was not in a good place, mentally/emotionally, especially on 2 November. I decided to go practice dance in order to get my mind off how useless I felt, but I needed some reason to even bother practicing. The best way to do that is to set up some kind of accountability system -- like pledging to post each day's work on social media for thirty straight days.
The decision to do this challenge was actually more a first-aid response for a period of acute distress than it was a thought-out plan. Dance, so far, is the only thing I've found that relives some of the mental distress really at all (and even that doesn't work 100% of the time), so by locking myself into a month-long challenge, it meant that I had to do something -- choreograph four sets of eight -- every day. The time it would take to choreograph that much dance would be enough time to let my mind reset and not wander so far down into the abyss.

At first it was fun -- I started out choreographing some stuff I had really wanted to choreograph for some time but just never bit the bullet on it. The response on social media was initially relatively enthusiastic. But within a week, interest and engagement began to drop off. It began to be less fun. I started thinking, how can I get them back? What could I do to get their attention again, to show them I was actually good at something (I hoped)? I began to expect more elaborate and complex things of myself, and I began to expect myself to execute them perfectly. I was trying to make drastic leaps of improvement every day and prove it with a video record of 32 perfect counts every single day, on top of work and school commitments. On Day 18 of the challenge, I had a bit of a meltdown in the studio because I COULD NOT land a double pirouette -- on my good turning side, and it was even a decent turning day. There were plenty of valid reasons that might have explained why it wasn't working -- I hadn't had a lot of sleep, I had just gotten off work, I hadn't eaten in a few hours, I hadn't been doing a whole lot of pointe lately, I was in desperate need of a physio appointment because my body was so out of alignment -- but I wanted to power through all that. The show must go on. Real performers don't get a free pass for ANY of the above reasons. Why should I? What makes me more special than them -- the ones who have actually earned this life? If I planned on even having a tiny hope of being any kind of performing artist, I had to stop with all these excuses -- however valid they might be. Mere hangers-on have not yet earned the right to such pedestrian excuses. But the more I pushed myself, the more angry I became that I wasn't improving.

For years I've been pushing away the idea that I'm an attention whore at heart. I won't make a scene in public, but if I do something -- anything -- I usually quietly expect some recognition. This month really brought that out. Seeing the public engagement with my posts fall off so sharply brought this right out into the light. I'm not the kind of person who gets insecure if her selfies don't get a certain percentage of Facebook/Instagram likes, but I do get insecure when I post a dance excerpt that I'm proud of or that shows some growth and LITERALLY nobody says anything. I don't know how this works in the brains of other people, but in my head the logic is 'nobody noticed. Again. As usual. See? You're not good enough. You're not worthy of their attention. If you weren't such a crappy dancer, maybe they'd notice you. You're not working hard enough. Quit lazing about and improve already. If you don't, you've no business calling yourself a dancer. So prove it. Now.'

So I push harder. Don't give me this 'it takes time' crap -- how then do you explain all those sixteen-year-olds who are prima ballerinas of companies like the New York City Ballet or the American Ballet or the Royal Ballet or the National Ballet of Canada? You cannot tell me it takes time, because for them it did not. For them it took sheer determination. And if I'm not at that level -- or at least reasonably close -- then apparently I don't have enough determination. My body has an expiry date. My window into the dance world shrinks with every second I draw breath. The clock is ticking, the hourglass is running out. How many metaphors do I need to use to get you to understand the urgency of the situation? And how many times do I have to remind myself of this before I actually start improving?

I'm at a loss. I am too old to pretend to be serious about this if I'm not going to be seriously good. But I cannot, cannot give this up. I chose this life. Now I need to earn it. This challenge is another stepping stone to that -- it makes me practice and it (hopefully) helps me gain a social media presence, if only among my friends and associates. It gives me visibility. And hopefully it will give me ability enough to earn that visibility.

14 November 2017

Things That You Think Help A Depressed Person But Don't

15 July 2017, 11.43pm.

(In no particular order...)

1. "You're beautiful."

Maybe this works for those with body image issues, but here's a news flash -- not all depressed people have body image issues. I personally am quite happy with my appearance. I have come to terms with my height (or lack thereof), I like my hair, my hands, my strong feet, and I would absolutely not trade my eyes for the world. My self-hatred runs deeper -- I hate my personality. While I understand that you're trying to combat my self-hatred, you're not actually addressing it at all.

2. "Go shopping."

Has it ever occurred to you that maybe one of the biggest triggers for my despondency is the HUGE amount of financial stress I'm under as a college student? Yes, buying fifty vinyl records might make me feel better, but right now there is no way in hell I can afford even one. I am at the point where food -- like actual nourishing food -- is a luxury.

3. "Take some time for yourself."

...not the best advice to give to someone whose depression is triggered/worsened by feelings of rejection and abandonment. The way my life is now, I am alone literally twenty hours a day. And the other four hours consist of me backstage with forty-seven other people who are physically there but not actually talking to me. I'm still very much alone. I have time for myself up the wazoo. I don't need any more.

4. "Just find someone who listens to you."

And you don't fit under this category why, exactly?

5. "You are enough."

This probably gets the award for 'dumb vague statement of the year.' Enough? Enough what? When I hear the word 'enough,' I think of every father who's ever tried to get their kids to stop arguing in the car: "Now that's enough!" It is not necessarily a positive association. Not an overly negative one -- but not a positive one either.

6. "You are loved."

I notice that you yourself are not willing to commit to saying you personally love/care about me. You're deflecting it onto the nameless 'other' and hoping like hell they back you up so you don't have to actually dig into your heart and get emotionally involved.

7. "It's always darkest before the dawn."

That may be true. But right now, it is not dawn, it is very dark, and the wolves in my mind are circling, closing in for the kill. I have no guarantee I'll even survive till dawn. Sure, dawn is coming, great. Fat lot of good that will do me if I don't survive the wolves in the dark.

29 October 2017

Music News - New Kickstarter

I was going to make this a Music Day post, but then my friend ended up in the hospital and I've been kind of a wreck ever since. This is going to be the dullest advert ever, but here goes...

The fantastic Dead Artist Syndrome is currently short of their $10,000 goal to release their 1991 album Prints Of Darkness on vinyl and CD by about 55% (over $5,000). The campaign ends on the 31st (Monday), and if it's not funded, then there's no Prints Of Darkness -- which would be the scariest part of Halloween 2017. Let me also note that this album is currently unavailable anywhere... not even iTunes. If you want this thing (like I do), this Kickstarter is your only chance.

Support the project here.

Again, apologies for not making an actual Music Day post out of this like I normally do. I'm just emotionally elsewhere. Here are a couple cuts from the album to whet your appetite...


Time is running out, so back this ASAP! Whether you are financially able to back it or not, be sure to promote the heck out of this campaign.

27 October 2017

The Survivors of the Survivors

Last week someone very close to me attempted suicide. I was the last one to see her alive before they found her unconscious on the couch three hours later. I have not seen her since.

She survived -- by pure luck. This incident has made me fully realise that I don't really believe in grace anymore. There's luck, or chance, or fluke, or whatever you want to call it, but grace -- grace is unpredictable. It's almost never there when you need it. That changes grace into chance, because honestly, that's what it is. It's a desperate hope, but there are zero guarantees. While she survived this time, the thing is, I get the sense that she is at risk to re-attempt. They keep pushing back her hospital release date. I get that they need to take every precaution, but the fact is, she is still in danger. They won't admit it. But that's why. I'm not stupid. I've done enough research and have enough experience to know that the nonverbal cues and psychobabble codes mean.

Nobody outside of the hospital staff thinks of that. Nobody thinks of the crippling fear that she may re-attempt -- that I may miss it again. I feel bad enough for missing it the first time. I call myself her friend, yet I wasn't there for her when she clearly needed it. I know suicidal thoughts. I know depression. Even if there were no signs, I should have sensed that something was off.

You're expected to just be happy that she survived. You don't question how or why or how to stop this happening again. You're just expected to be happy and carry on.

The thing is: You. Can't.

I said this (on a daily basis; for two years) after my cousin died. Everyone kept telling me to get over it because after all, God is sovereign, right, so that means you automatically cannot be sad about it because God figured it was best to kill a nine-year-old for no reason and you just have to accept that with no question. God figured it was best, so you must paste on your happy face and go out and be happy. No tears. No sniffles. No sadness. Welcome to Cloud Cuckoo Land, everybody. And I fought, with heart and soul, this crap idea that it was 'too negative' to be upset over the DEATH OF A NINE-YEAR-OLD CHILD. I have pretty much lost that battle -- still nobody believes that it's a big deal. They certainly don't believe it's a big deal that my mid-twenties friend attempted suicide and survived. She survived, right? So what's the problem? She survived.

Yes -- this time. But we have absolutely zero guarantee she won't pull this stunt again.

I hate music right now. Usually I turn to music for comfort, but lately I play any song ever, no matter what genre or what the subject matter is, and by the time they hit the first chorus I hate it and myself and everything else on the planet. The only thing that turns my brain off long enough to keep me from following in her footsteps is watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on YouTube. Literally the only thing keeping me alive is a cheesy '90s sitcom.

Because of who it was and the situation, there very quickly became counsellors and residence directors involved and they're all pushing me to 'talk about it.' I want to... but I don't know how. They all say they want to be there for me. But nobody was there for me when Brittney died. Nobody was willing to listen to me after my cousin died. Nobody insisted I get counselling after my grandpa died (suddenly, when I was out-of-province. I was the only grandchild who did not get to say goodbye). Why are they all of the sudden so concerned about me now? It's too late now -- I've already learned to internalise everything. I've already forgotten how to talk about how I'm grieving. Nobody wanted to listen before, I'm not about to delude myself into thinking people want to listen now. Everyone's so concerned about whether or not I'm okay... listen, I haven't been okay since my uncle was diagnosed with cancer in August 2014. I haven't been okay for three years. I'm not going to suddenly be okay now, less than a week after my good friend attempts suicide with the WORST timing possible for my mental health.

There are resources up the wazoo for people who actually lose someone to suicide. But nobody talks about those very close to someone who attempts and survives. How do you deal with the fury that consumes your every waking thought? How do you quell the desire to scream obscenities at them because no other words are adequate to describe the gut-wrenching heartache they have deliberately caused? How do you deal with the sheer terror that they'll re-attempt? There is relief, yes, but it's so, so fragile. You know they're still in danger, but you don't know for sure how much because you are at the mercy of what they actually tell you. And she told us nothing before her original attempt. Nothing. Because of how we 'freaked out' this time, she'll say even less before the next attempt and she'll probably make her plan more watertight. How do you deal with the guilt that arises from the lack of gratitude in your heart even though you know you should be thankful that she is still breathing?

One of the people trying to help me wants me to come up with a suicide safety plan for myself. Excuse me? Where was the safety plan for my friend? I'd worry about that first. She's more important than me right now. After the crap I've gone through for the past three years, now suddenly you're worried about me? Sorry, it's too late for me to believe you'll honestly be there for me through all the crap. I've had enough people give me the 'I'm here for you always, in everything,' and then when I vent to them they turn around and tell me 'you're too negative; get out of my life.' Are you there for me in everything or not?

Sorry there's no real ending to this. I can't think in a straight line right now. Too many thoughts are running too fast and I can't catch them and hold them long enough to follow them to their logical end -- all I have are fragments.

Plus I can't stand endings.

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.