15 May 2019

The First Empty Birthday... Again

You know, I had just gotten kind of used to celebrating Brittney's birthday without her. I had only just started to be sort-of okay. And now I have to start all over again, to re-learn to celebrate a birthday without the birthday girl here, to re-learn to hunker down and hold on on yet another date on the calendar -- there's so many of those now, and I'm not even thirty yet. I have to re-travel that entire path of grief, all those years of birthday parties that will never happen, and I have to re-condition myself to at least pretend to be okay again on yet another date when I'm really not.

Yet I'm not allowed to die. The four of you were, Brittney and Grandpa and my cousin and M, but somehow I'm not? How does that make sense? Today on your empty birthday, in some ways I wish it was mine. Why couldn't you take me with you? Why did you get to go and I had to stay here, in the shadowlands of the oxygen-dependent? You had so much more to offer than I ever have. Why leave me here? What could I possibly still do here that you couldn't have done a thousand times better? Am I just a cosmic punching bag and mere sweet death would be too good for me? How long -- how long must I watch my friends and family marry and have children and work in fields they enjoy and excel at their hobbies and I just watch a steady parade of caskets go past me, I watch my friends fade off my 'recent contacts' list because you can't text the dead. My still-surviving friends roll their eyes when I talk about stuff like grief and death because to them it's years away. They won't have to worry about that for another forty or so years yet. How have I seen more deaths than some sixty-year-olds? How is this fair? They got to at least enjoy their friendship. Mine are always cut short before we have a chance to really see how much we can create and explore together. Am I just destined to be companionless forever? How is that fair? How is any of this justified? Why do I have to be the only one?

I had only just begun to be able to put some of these questions out of my mind, at an uneasy rest. But now they're all back, and I'm so tired of not being able to ignore them and not being able to answer them.

And now I'm back at the beginning, once again. That first not-right, empty birthday. The first 'wish you were here' in a long, LONG neverending line -- given how long my mediocre existence will drag on at this rate, I might end up celebrating eighty of these empty birthdays, the days without you here, though that fact that you even have a birthday means that you were here, and it only emphasizes just how much you're not here anymore

13 May 2019

(Metaphorical) Split Jump

I feel like I have one foot in two provinces and it's honestly exhausting.

Earlier this spring I had made plans to stay in Saskatchewan fairly long-term (despite graduating college in April). I notified my housemates, job-hunted, started looking at places, told my entire extended family/friend group -- and then it fell through. Completely. Entirely.

I came up with a backup plan fairly quickly. Since it involved me moving back to Alberta, I officially ended the perennial Saskatchewan job-hunt -- no point in prolonging the frustration of not getting hired if I was only going to be there another month and a half anyway.

However, because I have zero income, this means I am literally scraping together couch change to pay for gas to get to rehearsals. I have $18 to my name right now. I literally can't even break a twenty for change for the parking meter at the doctor's office.

This leaves me in a very tight spot. I'm still in shows in Sasktachewan till mid-June. However, I don't have money to even fuel my van this week. The one saving grace was that there's a week and a half between performance dates here. It's a long enough period of time to go back home and work for my dad's company for a week. And that should earn me enough money to pay my final rent bill in Saskatchewan and cover gas till I move back to Alberta. It's really kind of stupid that I'm having to commute nine and a half hours (to a different province!) to work, but I swear literally NOBODY ELSE on the planet will hire me. Name it and I've applied for it. Even jobs below minimum wage. I have applied for literally everything.

I've just confirmed my place in a renting option in Alberta. I guess it's official now -- my time in Saskatchewan is ending, much sooner than I anticipated. I really only have about two weeks total here -- the rest will be in Alberta, working to afford to actually move.

It hurts. 98% of my friends -- my support system -- are in Saskatchewan. I really only have two Alberta friends left, and they'd be in a different city than me. I would be well and truly alone in a strange city, when I'm already not in a great headspace.

Don't get me wrong -- I love Alberta, and I love the city (both cities in general and the particular one I'm moving to). But I feel very much like I'll lose all the friends I made here in Saskatchewan, and I'll have to start rebuilding a support system from step one all over again -- do you know how long it took to cobble together the one that I currently have? And that was in a school environment, where you're together with people all the time, in a setting that's fairly conducive to building relationships.

It still doesn't seem real that one day, in less than a month, I will be leaving this house, driving away from this town, taking the exit off the highway... and never coming back.

29 April 2019

Honest Ramble

Can I be very, very honest about my life right now? Here is one of the few places I can be, because here, on this website, on my domain name, nobody is required to read anything I write. If you want to read it, fine. If you don't, fine. Nobody's forcing anything on this blog down anybody's throat. On Facebook and Instagram, I have a persona to keep up, at least a little bit. I do show frustration on there sometimes, but I try to balance it with humour (even if it's sarcastic/dark humour).

I'm frustrated beyond words at my lack of ability to get a job. I've been job-hunting for three years. And I'm not being picky. I've applied for waitressing, cashier, reception, janitor, construction, literally anything that I'm even kind of half-qualified for. I feel like a failure as a human being because I'm not self-sufficient, because I still need financial assistance. People tell me, 'just apply for everything.' I know... I've been doing exactly that for three years. And I feel like I'm defective, like something's fundamentally wrong with me because despite being very qualified for a variety of different types of work, literally nobody even contacts me for an interview or anything. How is it so easy for everyone else to get a job and not me? What's so horribly, horribly wrong with me that it's immediately obvious even to those who have never met me in person?

I haven't practiced dance since February. I just -- haven't. I was busy, then sick, then injured, then recovering, now sick again. And now I'm wondering if I even bother picking it up again because now I'll be so far behind -- again. And it's not like all that practice was serving me well anyway... I was easily the worst dancer in Fame.

I am bored as heck. Having no job and no more schoolwork (ever) has left me with a LOT of free time that I really wasn't prepared for. Ordinarily I would just use it for practice, but I'm not even sure I want to put in that much effort anymore... I'm not sure it's going to be worth the time and energy I've put into it, and I have so little energy to play with as it is. I'm not sure I should even bother pursuing the performing arts anymore. I'm not sure what I should be pursuing or what I should be doing. I feel very, very purposeless. Up till now, the arts was my purpose. But now... now I don't even have that. Never before in my life have I not had the arts, some kind of creative project, to capture my imagination and my days. Never, never before. Is this how people live? Is this the hell they wake up to every day? How do they breathe under that weight?

I just feel so, so useless. I feel like I have nothing to bring to the world that somebody else isn't already doing ten times better. I feel like everyone's got everything taken care of and they don't need me for anything. I worked so hard and I tried so hard and I practiced so much and it wasn't enough to be of use to anybody. I feel like I have nothing to contribute, nothing to say that hasn't already been said, nothing to do that hasn't already been done. They say to put your own unique stamp on the world and to live life as only you can, but my only calling card is that everything I do is subpar. And maybe that's not even my fault... but it feels like it is.

I don't want to just spend my life watching YouTube. I don't want to spend it scrolling through Facebook. But right now those are literally the only options available to me. I don't have a job and I don't have talent and I don't have money to start something even moderately big. I can't even do another dance video -- I don't have the money.
I'm scared that I'm just wasting my life and that I'll be mooching off my family for the rest of my life. I'm scared no-one needs me. I'm scared I'm missing something.

My brain literally feels like it's being eaten by acid -- melting, burning. I wanted so much to create things, but they're always, always subpar and I'm exhausted from expending so much energy into something that's worth nothing.

When you're a kid you can do something as stupid as make bracelets and sell them for $5 each and make money that way. But when you're an adult they expect so much more from you. They expect the world. They expect complete perfection. Nobody will pay $5 for a string with three beads on it made by a fully functioning adult human who's perfectly capable of going out and getting a job... right?

I feel unheard -- completely invisible. I send emails and it's like they're never received. I talk to people and it's like they never heard my voice. I stand by them, I even touch them, and they look right through me. It's like being gaslighted by the entire world -- 'I never ignored you.' Then why do you refuse to acknowledge my existence?

I'm aware that time is marching on and I'm doing nothing with it and it'll end soon and I'll have nothing to show for it, but it's not for lack of trying. I tried -- I tried. I freaking tried.

I feel like I'm trapped and I'm drowning and I can't get out.

25 April 2019

Too Personal

I've touched on this rant before. However, I've reined myself in in those instances. Here, I am going to give you the full, unadulterated, 100% pure-from-concentrate rant.

(Buckle up.)

In the more immediate aftermath of the Year from Hell (2015/my second year of college/when literally everybody I ever loved was dying), I was so consumed by the pain that admittedly, it was all I talked about. I was trying to process it, trying to hash it out, and as a result, I talked about it incessantly. I was angry, I was wounded, I felt like everybody was abandoning me (dying) and I was crying out for somebody to just not. I felt like everybody was leaving, despite my cries for them to stay -- it was like nobody heard me. I call this phenomenon 'screaming into the void.' I was screaming for someone to stay and they kept walking away, without even glancing back or checking their pace. As if I wasn't making any sound at all. As if they never even heard me. As if I wasn't even there.

So, in a desperate attempt to get some measure of sympathy or attention or even some acknowledgement that I wasn't invisible, I kept telling the story of my pain. Over and over. I was waiting for somebody to really, truly hear me. To listen. No-one did, so I kept rehashing the story. I wanted somebody to hear it, and I would keep telling it until somebody did or die in the attempt.

In May 2016, somebody who I had considered a friend told me through text (somewhat rudely) that I was getting 'too personal.' I was too stunned by his rudeness to ask what that meant, but I made a mental note to not bring up anything but fairy floss and unicorns around this person again (which, when your life is a living hell as mine was at the time, means you're never going to talk to them again). As best as I could figure given the limited context, 'personal' meant 'not ecstatically happy.'

Two months later, a very good friend of mine said the same thing -- the exact same words -- after I confronted her about blocking me on social media. This person knows pain very similar to mine, so this one hurt especially deeply. Our relationship still has a rift in it, as I now feel I can't talk with her about anything lest it be deemed 'too personal.'

In November 2016, in an email that was a direct factor in my suicide attempt four months later, a mentor said to me, 'you are being too personal. Nobody wants to hear about your troubles.' To me, this translated directly to, 'nobody will ever love you because your life has problems.' (Even though it was not my fault that everybody around me was dying.)
Even though I didn't attempt suicide till the following March, this email was the point where I mentally/emotionally gave up and these words were ringing through my head the night that I actually attempted suicide. Those words sent a very clear message that I was broken beyond repair and that nobody would ever want me in their lives.

What do we do with things that are broken beyond repair, things that nobody wants?

We throw them away.

People ask why I tried to kill myself. How could I be so selfish? they ask. Answer: Because I was broken and nobody wants a broken person. Broken people are a drain on friends, family, society, and -- I was told in no uncertain terms -- churches. We take energy and joy and hope from people and replace it with bleak despair. And Nobody Wants That. Don't lie to me -- you all told me that yourself, in those 'nobody wants to hear...' messages. I was going to throw myself away -- the way all broken things should be (sayeth society).

'Too personal' bothers me because it means that you think you can impose on me what I can and cannot say. You're trying to censor me. Everyone else gets to pull the 'free speech' card, so -- where's my right to free speech? More than that, it shows that you don't truly care about me. A true friend is there through everything -- good and bad, thick and thin. Yes, tough love is a useful tool, but it should be a last resort, not a wall you put up the SECOND a friend starts struggling. (Also, side note -- tough love really only makes sense if said friend is actively hurting themselves. However, if life is beating your friend down through no fault of their own -- you know, like if someone close to them dies -- that is not, not, NOT an appropriate time for tough love. THEY ARE IN MOURNING AND IT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT THEIR FAULT THEIR FRIEND/CLOSE RELATIVE DIED. STOP PUNISHING THEM FOR BEING SAD ABOUT SOMETHING OUTSIDE THEIR CONTROL.) The instant you throw out the 'too personal' line, you have permanently placed your friend at arm's length and told them that you are not a safe person to come to if they need it (for more on that, read this). I have literally ended friendships over this line (and it takes one heck of a lot for me to end a friendship -- I've only ended two or three friendships in my entire life, but they were all over this or very similar issues).

There's a quote that floats around the internet to the effect of 'If you can't handle me at my worst, you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best,' and that is SO true. Either you're with me through it all, or I'm done with you. I don't have the time or energy for fair-weather friendships who only want my perfect, happy life. If you love me, you love all of me, no matter how sad or frustrated or discouraged.

That being said, please hear this -- you don't have to fix me.

I'll say it again: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO FIX ME.

I don't expect you to make my life perfect again -- that's not possible for anybody. You just have to love me. If I trust you with the information of how difficult things are for me at the moment, that means I trust you. Take that as an honour. Don't destroy that trust by telling me that you have arbitrarily decided that I can't talk about a certain topic or issue in my life that I just want to hash out or verbally process.

Now, that's all frustrating, just on its own.

But even before you get to all of that crap, there's the fact that from an English-speaking standpoint, the phrase itself doesn't even make sense -- at least not in the context of me talking about something that's happened to me. It makes sense if I'm asking you questions about yourself and your life and you say, 'that's kind of a personal question, I'd rather not answer it.' That makes sense to me, but if I want to tell a story from my own life, how is that 'too personal?' What does that even mean? You're asking me to avoid something that can't even be properly defined. And a person who's struggling -- especially if they have a condition like depression -- will tend to swing to the opposite extreme. They will stop sharing their pain -- entirely. To anyone. Full stop. They -- we -- will carry it alone and bottle it up.

And bottled up pain, just like bottled up anger, will eventually explode, and sometimes pain explodes into a suicide attempt. And sometimes suicide attempts don't get thwarted -- sometimes the thing we try actually does kill us. Sometimes nobody calls. Sometimes the person doesn't find us in time. Sometimes telling someone to stop talking about their pain means that we listen -- permanently.

27 March 2019

Pieces of Starving

Written 23 March 2019.

Whatever this thing is that wants me dead -- mental illness, demons, whatever you want to call it -- is resourceful. I've started fighting to not be sad and negative all the time (because otherwise nobody will ever associate with me and I want human interaction more than anything), and in the absence of space to be sad, it's turned to other means.
In an attempt to get this out into the open but unwilling to burden my already long-suffering friends and acquaintances with yet another issue, I'm posting it here. If my friends see this, they see it of their own accord. I didn't force it on them, and I take comfort in that.

I've been restricting food. I've discussed this with my counsellor before on a couple of occasions, as it's popped up before. But each time it gets stronger. I only ate one meal yesterday, and it's 1.23pm as I type this and I haven't eaten yet today.

Part of it is finances -- I can't really afford to buy more food, so I'm trying to stretch out what I have.
Part of it is perfectionism -- 'you aren't good enough to deserve to eat.'
Part of it is scheduling -- between school and rehearsals and job-hunting, I don't have time to make food.
Part of it is exhaustion -- again, school and rehearsals and job-hunting take so much out of me that the thought of making and eating food makes me want to lay down and die because I just don't have the energy.
Part of it is for attention -- maybe if people notice I'm not eating they'll start paying attention to me, if only to intervene.
Part of it is suicidal -- if I stop eating, eventually I'll die. Maybe the too-soon death of one who literally starved for the sake of being good enough (too busy practicing to eat) will wake some people up. Plus, I'll be dead and won't have to fight anymore, and I'm just so tired of fighting. It seems pointless and I feel like I'm not really needed. Yeah, it would suck for the shows I'm in because they'll have to respace everything, but really, how much would it affect anyone's soul if I wasn't there? I'm shoved in the back anyway because I'm not good enough, it's not like anyone will notice I'm gone... and that's not their fault, it's mine. For not being good enough. For not practicing hard enough.

I shouldn't feel guilty for eating food, for spending the money, for not eating something other than eggs -- again, but somehow I do. It's not that I think I'm fat or need to lose weight, it's mostly just pure mental/physical exhaustion.

17 March 2019

Spring

These are the days that make me miss home. The blue sky, the sun, the smell of damp grass as the snow melts, the overwhelming brown of dead grass, mud, and last year's leaves.

I've noticed in the past few years that my depression worsens in the spring. Winter has always been my favourite season, and with each passing year I despise its departure more and more. I hate the mud, I hate the brown, I hate the slush and the damp and the receding snow. And I hate more than anything the fact that everybody gets so darn excited about it. Everybody everywhere suddenly starts celebrating the drab brownness everywhere and the mess and the fact that you can't take one step outside without getting covered in mud. How is this something to celebrate...? It's like they're rubbing the horribleness of the season in your face. Just when you thought you'd forgotten it's not crisp and clean outside anymore, someone comes up to you and says, with eyes brighter and wider than any human's should naturally be, 'ISN'T IT SO NICE AND WARM OUT TODAY BOY I THOUGHT WINTER WAS NEVER GOING TO END DON'T YOU JUST LOVE THE SUNSHINE THEY SAID IT'S SUPPOSED TO GET UP TO PLUS FIVE TODAY I'M GLAD I WORE SHORTS.' It's like a firehose of fake cheer in my face, trying to drown me. Have you actually looked outside? It's BROWN. No colour. No life. There's nothing beautiful about it. Don't tell me spring is when the flowers bloom, Martha, that happens in June. This is March.

And the statistics bear me out. Suicide rates spike in May. Not November. Not February. May.

For me, I realised today that one of the reasons my depression bottoms out at this time is because for whatever reason, days like this remind me of home. And I'm not home. And I won't be for the forseeable future. Ach, der mich liebt und kennt / Ist in der Weite.

Sacrifice

Written 7 March 2019, 11.01pm.

I'm tired of trying so hard and sacrificing so much and only getting people telling me I'm still not trying hard enough/giving enough. I have sacrificed my time, money, sleep, meals, friendships, health, mental health... everything for this. And still it's not enough. What WILL be enough? What more do I even have left to give up to be good enough to satisfy everyone? Performing is all I have left. My life has become so narrow - there's nothing else I can give up, short of my actual physical life. And at the rate it's going, even that's not going to be enough for some people.

Unfortunately, those are the people that hold the roles in their hands.

04 March 2019

Smaller

Last night, on a long-ish solo drive, I got thinking.

I've kind of been not-talking to a lot of my friends lately. It's not that I don't like them or have any problems with them, it's just that I know most of them have a LOT going on and I'm terrified to be a further drain on them, even more than I already have been. Of course, hot on the heels on this thought was the time-worn logic that's been dictating my life for over a decade -- if you were dead, you wouldn't be a drain on them anymore.

If only I could somehow make myself smaller. If only I could make myself need less. If only I could be even more self-sufficient. If only I didn't need SO MUCH people-time. If only I could be happy with the same surface-level relationships that everyone else manages to be happy with. If only I could somehow apologise deeply enough for the fact that I need so much from so many -- without immediately regressing back into the same behaviour that I'd just apologised for. If only I could apologise enough for taking up even the little 5'3 amount in time and space and oxygen. If only I could apologise for wasting the time of everybody I've ever said 'hello' to. If only I could be smaller. If only I could need less.

And I realised that I've been thinking these things, in some form or another, for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid. Even today, I'm constantly making myself small -- I draw my knees to my chest, I keep my things piled high rather than spread out and I keep them close to me, I tuck my feet under the chair, ankles crossed, I stand (against the wall) rather than sit, I keep my elbows tucked against my ribs and my hands close to my chest and face. I've been looking for ways to take up as little physical space as possible for so long that I do it without thinking now, and I feel guilty when I make any kind of expansive movement or step into the middle of a room or even raise my voice or start a conversation.

I'm tired of apologising for existing. But I don't know how not to feel guilty for breathing.

01 March 2019

Music Day - Tourist Trap

I recently acquired this album on vinyl. I already have it on CD/my iTunes, but this is one of my top five favourite albums of all time and I wanted it on vinyl.

For context, this is a space-age concept album, born out of the 'not of this world' school of thought that you find in the Bible (referring to the people of God whose home is not on earth, but in the kingdom of God). This is a theme also used by Larry Norman in his Only Visiting This Planet album (1972) and Petra's 1983 song Not Of This World, although in my completely biased opinion Crumbächer gave it the most thorough and relatable treatment.

Until I listened to the vinyl and read the enclosed lyric sheet, most of the lyrics of this song had eluded me. I had gotten the general idea of it -- that this was a song about how alluring fallen-earth society can be and how easy it is to get comfortable and to lose sight of the fact that this is not our home. But on the day I listened to this vinyl, lyric sheet in hand, I was not in a great headspace and I was starting to ruminate on suicide again (I say this casually only because it's such a common occurrence).

This song had never been a favourite of mine (that was an honour given to tracks like Royal Command Performance, Interstellar Satellite, and Solo Flight) -- until that day when nearly every single line leapt through the stylus and struck me, particularly this one:

When the pressure drives I want to stall
It would be so easy after all...

It would be so easy. At the time I was exhausted -- physically, mentally, emotionally. The thought of waking up every single morning for the next sixty years and fighting literally non-stop with the demon in my head when I was already so deeply depleted at such a (relatively) young age was more than I could stand. All I wanted was to stop fighting. I just wanted a break. I just wanted to breathe without something telling me I couldn't or that I wasn't working hard enough or that I wasn't good enough. The song's opening lines capture it so perfectly: [W]hen every day's a constant uphill climb / They say the joy of living can get lost within the bittersweet of time...

In spite of that, the chorus continues:
So I sally forth, try, try again
Passing up a 'last chance' now and then...

I couldn't feel the same determination that Stephen and Co. feel in this song within myself, but I caught enough of theirs that it inspired me to keep going, just one more day.

Title: Tourist Trap
Artist: Crumbächer
Album: Escape From The Fallen Planet
Year: 1986
Label: Frontline Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Musically, I think my favourite moment is the key change after the guitar solo (I'm always a sucker for a key change). Other highlights include Crumbächer's trademark harmonies and of course plenty of space-age keyboards. There's a nice little guitar solo in here too (a rarity in early Crumbächer, but I think it gives the song added weight and substance).

17 February 2019

What is Good?

The last two days have been full of despair and fear. I have exactly $20 cash to my name. One of my most promising opportunities for the summer may not even happen -- leaving me very much in the lurch and forcing me to make long-term decisions sooner than I anticipated. And overall I've been feeling very alone. I just want to spend time with someone, but it seems everyone's busy. And this makes me frustrated because I feel guilty for needing so much people-time.

I was reading over the last few posts on this blog the other day and I realised that it's been pretty depressing here as of late. I want to do a 'good' post, a sort of hopeful post, but I didn't know how or what about. So I'm just going to bullet-point it.

- This past week I've finally started work on Kyrie again. I'm truly loving writing this story right now. I'm trying not to think too much about how many plot holes and loose ends there still are and how many characters are severely underdeveloped.

- Peanut butter banana smoothies. Some days this is literally the only thing that makes me happy.

- I recently obtained a copy of Crumbächer's incredible album Escape From The Fallen Planet on vinyl. This is one of my top five favourite albums of all time, and I've wanted it on vinyl for several years. I finally got a chance to listen to it today, while reading the lyric sheet.
I've known and loved this album (on CD) for years now. It was one of only three albums that I could stand to hear for about six months following my cousin's sudden death, so I played it a LOT. But there were always a few lyrics that eluded me, and now, reading them in full, soaking in the rich, full sound of the vinyl, I discovered (as I had rather hoped) another layer of conceptual and sonic depth to this album. This is what I love in good music. This is what I look for -- I look for the music that will give me new things for years and years to come, no matter how many times I play it.

- My mom and my brother came to visit for a few days. It was nice to walk around campus actually talking to someone rather than wandering about all by myself.

- On Friday one of my friends came up and gave me a hug.

- Michael W. Smith's '80s output. (i 2 (EYE) and The Big Picture.) Also the Imperials' ...This Year's Model.

07 February 2019

For Free

The perfectionistic self-hatred is bad tonight.

Will I ever be good enough? Will I ever practice enough to satisfy anybody? Will I ever actually earn the title 'dancer,' without some authority insisting that I'm not good enough for it?

How good do I have to be? How many more hours of practice per day do you want from me? Is the fact that I practice literally to the point of physical collapse -- sometimes twice a day -- still not good enough? What will be? Three times? Five? Ten?

I'm almost up to professional ballerina practice hours -- though I'm still a student and am looking for actual paying work on the side -- and I'm not even getting paid for all those hours of my life that I spend in the studio or the practice room. If I was getting paid even $12 an hour (which I think is roughly minimum wage) for all the hours of practice I do, I would be making $430 a week. A week. I'm currently making $0... but I'm still doing it. (Never mind the fact that 'dancer' or 'performer' is a highly specialised field and probably should be making something more like $50 an hour -- or, $1800 a week at my current practice schedule.)

In other words, every single week I'm doing over a thousand dollars' worth of work -- for free. I don't even get recognition or thanks or anything for the effort I'm putting in... I just get yelled at for going to the place that the choreographer set for me in the choreography two days ago that he apparently forgot about. I get yelled at for turning my face away from the audience -- because I was in the middle of a turn that HE choreographed. I get told by my teachers that I'm lying to them when I tell them how many hours I'm practicing every day because they haven't seen enough improvement to make those hours feasible. (Do they not think I'm just as frustrated about it -- if not even more so -- then they are?)

$1000 per week of time and energy and effort (not to mention wear and tear on my dance shoes).

A lifetime of being told I'm not good enough and not doing enough even though my schedule is maxed out and have literally no more hours in the day to practice -- per week.

For free.

How the hell is this justified?

I just want to be good enough for you. Tell me what that will take. Or have you just decided you hate me so much you will never tell me that I really am a half-decent dancer/performer?

Will anything ever satisfy you -- you, the choreographers and directors who hold my destiny in your hands; you, my teachers who of all people know where I started; you, perfectionism, the demon in my mind with the whip, telling me I don't deserve to live because I'm not good enough and I never will be.

01 February 2019

Music Day - Treasure Of The Broken Land

Four years ago today, dear Brittney left this world, flew beyond the stars without the rest of us and our leaden souls still tethered to time.

I discovered this song probably about a year and a half after her death. It was Mark Heard's (recorded) swan song before his sudden death in August 1992 (Brittney would only have been a month old at the time). It so perfectly captures the tension of being alive on earth and missing those no longer on earth just a phone call or a text away. The song is rich with longing and even a touch of regret, but it's up-tempo enough to keep it from being unlistenable.

My words are weak in the face of such lyrical dexterity, so I'll let the lyrics speak for themselves...

I see you now and then in dreams
Your voice sounds just like it used to...

I thought our days were commonplace
Thought they'd number in the millions
Now there's only the aftertaste
Of circumstance that can't pass this way again...

You were relieved of a life-long thirst
I was dry at the fountain...

I often still wonder why she got to die and I didn't. I attempted suicide just over two years after she died, and yet I lived. Why then didn't she? She had so much more to offer than I ever have. Why did I have to stay while she went on without me?

I awoke when you called my name
I felt the curtain tearing...

Remind you of anything? Like Terry Scott Taylor's gut-wrenching One More Time? 'I thought that I heard / Your voice call my name / But that couldn't be 'cause you walk beyond the stars... Here inside a dream / I see you standing on a hill / You smile, then turn away / Now I must go...'

I could melt the clock hands down
But only in my memory
Nobody gets a second chance
To be the friend that they meant to be...

If this line doesn't force you to re-evaluate your entire life, I'm willing to bet a lot of money that you don't have a pulse. In just a few words, Heard throws the unforgiving march of time and the fragility of human life into razor-sharp focus.

Title: Treasure Of The Broken Land
Artist: Mark Heard
Album: Satellite Sky
Year: 1992
iTunes here; YouTube here.

We live in a broken land -- I think we'll all agree on that, at least to some extent. But she was a treasure in this wasteland of false fronts and manufactured love. She was the real deal. And I miss her every day.

16 January 2019

Day 16 - National Choreography Month

In my psychology class this morning, we were discussing attachment theory. Me being me, I immediately starting making connections between the categories and the people I know in real life -- especially those who have been in positions of authority over me. One of the words the prof used to describe parents of the ambivalent children in Ainsworth's 1978 study was 'unpredictable.'

It was like lightning. That was the word to describe my relationship with almost everybody in my life -- my mom, certain professors, several people I tentatively call 'friends.' It even describes myself to a point. I've spent my whole life thinking -- hoping -- I could trust this person, or this person, or maybe that person, only to have them suddenly turn cold and drop me... then when I confront them about it, they deny it. Yes, this is emotional abuse, but it's also unpredictable. For some reason I needed that word. That is what makes it hell -- the fact that you just never know what they're going to do in any given situation. Will they extend grace? Or will they explode and give up on you?

The whole concept of my relationship with these authority figures throughout my life continued percolating in my brain after class.
We'll pause this thought and come back to it.

Secondary train of thought -- yesterday I was talking with someone and I was trying to describe perfectionism -- how I've internalised the voices of all the people who said I wasn't good enough and would never be and now I tell myself that, I beat myself up for every tiny mistake because so has everyone else. Maybe not consistently -- there's that 'unpredictable' thing again -- but often enough that I am terrified of screwing up because there's a strong possibility that I will not receive a grace response -- instead I'll be screamed at, or worse, tossed aside forever. I've often said perfectionism is like a whip across my back, lashing me every time I try to rest rather than practice, and the whip comes down with renewed fury whenever I screw something up.

Today, as I was pondering my relationship with these authority figures and my perfectionism, the question formed: who's holding the whip?

My initial thought was to draw what I was picturing, but of course I'm rubbish at drawing. But the whip motif -- the whip in the hands of these specific people -- suddenly came to life in my mind and it became a percussion section. And then came the song -- Rose's When Will I Be Loved.

The thing percolated in my mind through my piano and voice lessons, and afterwards I sat and listened to the song and sketched out a general story.

I love it when this happens -- when there's an actual story to the song. Not just a theme, a story -- the passage of characters through choices and consequences. I've only managed it in two other pieces.

This one is dark -- so dark it surprises even me (and I can be a pretty dark person). I had a moment where I thought maybe I should cushion this a bit, but I don't think I will. This is reality for a lot of us, and if you (the viewer) can't handle that, too bad. This dance is a depiction of what it's like to live with the voices of everyone who should have been a stable figure in your life but is not stable inside your head and it touches on the loneliness of having to figure out life completely on your own because nobody's ever truly properly there for you, not consistently. This is what it's like to constantly hear this voice in your head saying you're not good enough and you never will be. It's exhausting to try to keep even a half-step ahead of that voice, that whip. It's exhausting to be beat down by your own mind every single second of your existence. It's deeply, gut-wrenchingly disheartening to have nobody consistent to turn to -- no rock to go to when you're struggling. It's so freaking hard to keep going -- completely alone -- into the storm of voices screaming that you might as well stop trying because you'll never be good enough anyway.

If I'm honest, this is for M. I think the whip came down on her back harder than it does even on mine. It killed her -- this relentless push for perfection at any cost. Who planted the initial seed of that voice in her mind, that broken record telling her she wasn't good enough -- that despite all those hours of relentless practice and effort and time, she wasn't good enough? There's no telling. Even in my life, it's entirely possible that I assumed somebody wanted more of me than they actually did and I just internalised that imagined standard and fed all my subsequent life experiences into it.

I'm excited for this piece, in a weird way. It'll be raw, but hopefully it'll get the viewer's attention. Hopefully it does justice to the dark side of what we perfectionists experience.

14 January 2019

Tell Me You Know

The following was written 13 October 2018, three weeks after M's death. I was talking about this with someone not long ago and decided that yes, I am going to post this -- I believe it needs to be said.
This is the original, unedited post from that time.

If you know someone is grieving, please say something. Please acknowledge their existence. Even if you just say, 'I heard what happened. I'm so sorry.' Just tell me you know.

Three full weeks after my good friend's sudden death, I'm only just finding out now that all my professors and teachers found out the same day I did. They didn't know her at all -- the one person I told first told all of them. I don't mind all of them knowing... but I wish they would have said something to me. For three weeks I've been carrying this and while yes, I do have close friends who are checking in on me, it would still be helpful to know all the rest of you know and are in my corner. At least say 'I'm sorry...'

I don't know why this bothers me so much. I feel like they just let me struggle alone. I feel like they all said, 'ah, she'll be fine.' And maybe I will be -- but not in a void, and not at the moment. Don't ignore me now -- being ignored is exactly what leads to suicide in the first place. If you want to prevent other suicide deaths in the memory of this fantastically bright person you never knew, then make sure nobody slips through the cracks. Make sure nobody else feels abandoned, or ignored, or stigmatised.

Yes, I have been putting on a brave face. But that's exactly what I've been doing -- 'putting on' a brave face. It's not real, and it's exhausting -- trying to keep up this facade so you don't abandon me just because I'm grieving something beyond my control.



The following was a Facebook post I drafted that same week and never published. In retrospect, I wish I had. It won't have the same effect now because of the time that's passed between her death and the present day, but maybe it'll be helpful to you all in the future as your other friends lose people in tragic ways.

Can I rant for a second?

Let me be clear: I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm about to write the kind of post that ends up with a million people commenting stuff like 'wow thanks for sharing' because they feel obligated in some way to acknowledge it rather than because they actually feel anything. I'm telling you -- don't comment unless you actually mean it. I can tell from a mile away if you don't and it just makes everything awkward for both of us. I would prefer that you not comment at all rather than say something insincere or off-topic. I'm not looking for sympathy. I just want to say this.

(Also, trigger warning.)

So -- most of you apparently know by now that two weeks ago I lost a very good friend to suicide. This is the fourth person close to me that I've lost in three years and from past experience I knew that if I said one word about it, people were going to start coming out of the woodwork telling me how I'm not trying hard enough to get over it and how I was being 'too negative.' So for the past two weeks I have deliberately put on a brave face. I have said nothing. I have asked for nothing. I have continued to live my life as if everything was fine even though there's a MASSIVE hole in my heart. Believe me, I wanted to say something. I wanted to at least give people a heads-up to the pain I'm in, to explain why I might seem a little 'off.' But I knew people would think I was just milking for sympathy and they would resent me and treat me even worse so I kept my mouth shut.

And now I'm beginning to find out that literally EVERYONE around me found out the same day I did. I know it's a small town and rumours spread, and I honestly don't mind that people know -- but the thing is NOBODY, not one of these people, reached out to me to see how I was doing. Most of these people know I have a history of similar struggles. I would assume most of these people are aware that copycat suicide is a thing and be at least slightly concerned for my safety. But nobody checked in. Nobody even said, 'hey, I heard; I'm so sorry.' Even that would have made me feel supported. But now I just feel ignored and abandoned. You knew I was suffering and you turned a blind eye. And I think that almost hurts more than the knowledge that my immensely creative, fun-loving, talented, vivacious friend ended her own life.

You know who commits suicide? Those who feel alone and abandoned.

You know how I feel right now? Alone and abandoned.

Just SAY something. It doesn't have to be much. It doesn't have to be perfect. Just let me know you see me.

09 January 2019

Dignity, Children, and Dance

I've been in the dance world since 2000. Over that time period, choreography -- especially for young children (ages 4-11ish) -- has gone from 'adorable' to 'sexy.' This shift has been so widely accepted that today's media (and consumers) actually call these highly sexual dances 'adorable.'

And yet... we are constantly seeing posts on Facebook and Twitter about how poorly girls and women (in particular) are treated. How many are treated as less-than. How many are abused. How many are raped. How rarely/insufficiently justice is done to the perpetrators of these crimes. How intelligent, skilled, creative women are widely seen as nothing more than sex objects. Remember #MeToo?

Who is giving off this perception? Why does this mindset still exist? Are we really doing everything we can to train our children to think otherwise? (Children are the future. Societal change starts with them.)

I won't pretend to know the answers to all these questions, but I want to zero in on something that is frequently a huge part of a little girl's life: dance.

In North America, it's fairly common practice for young girls to take at least a year or two of dance classes. And most families, whether or not they have children in dance classes, are familiar with competitive dance thanks to shows like America's Got Talent, Dancing With The Stars, Dance Moms, So You Think You Can Dance, and the like (to say nothing of the videos floating around social media/BuzzFeed). Even if your children aren't in dance themselves, they're certainly seeing it from their screens, friends, and/or siblings.

Every so often you'll see a social media post where a rape victim is wearing a sweatshirt and jeans holding a sign saying 'This is what I was wearing,' indicating that they were not dressed provocatively at the time of their rape.

Then look at the 'costumes' your children -- daughters, sons, nieces, grandchildren -- are wearing in these videos with millions of views on YouTube. If people in jeans and sweatshirts are common victims of rape, how much more likely are these vulnerable kids in a bandeau and booty shorts to get molested or raped? I haven't even mentioned the highly sexual choreography. And then we wonder why pedophilia is on the rise...?

The siblings and friends of the dance students in 2000 when I first began training are legal adults now, or nearly (and one need not be a legal adult to engage in a sexual crime against a child). There is a whole generation of near-adults who have been raised on a steady diet of child porn made socially acceptable by sequins, stage lights, awards, and clever show titles and distributed in plain sight through every cable hookup and WiFi hotspot in North America.

04 January 2019

The Annual Goalpost

I kind of dislike the annual goal-setting. It's hard. Part of it is because a lot of these goals are pretty abstract and difficult to measure progress in, but part of it is also because I genuinely have no idea what province I'm going to be in this time next year. I graduate (hopefully) in April... and then what? I have three viable options, and at the moment it's a waiting game to see which will pan out.

As far as that goes -- I want to stay in the performing arts. I've already got a few auditions lined up for 2019 -- the second is in less than a week. So I guess that counts as a goal. But what do I want to do around that -- when I'm not actually at rehearsal or practicing or performing? What do I want to work on in practice?

First -- dance.
If I do end up moving, goal #1 is to find a practice space. I'm spoiled here right now -- I have relatively unlimited access to a studio a five-minute walk from my house, and I have a connection to another studio in the next town over if I need it. I've had the opportunity to practice literally every day for the past two years and I would not be where I am now as a dancer if it wasn't for that. In dance, perhaps more than any other discipline, daily practice is absolutely CRUCIAL even just to maintain technique. Dance technique/ability gets lost faster than technique in any other discipline I've attempted.
Goal #2 would be to find classes (and a job to pay for them). If I can't find a studio to practice in on my own time, this would be the next best thing, plus it's also important to have a trained teacher looking at my technique and giving corrections on a regular basis even when I am practicing on my own regularly. I know at this point a career as a full-time classical ballerina is not likely, but I would still like to train toward that level, just for my own strength and enjoyment (and also to prove to those who said I couldn't that I can).

I want to do more choreography. Of course this includes National Choreography Month in January, but it also includes more dance videos. For 2018 my goal was to make multiple new dance videos (I believe I actually said 'one per month'), but unfortunately I only accomplished one (plus two live videos). I do want to continue the videos into 2019 though. At least two videos? I hope? Hopefully more, but realistically (financially) I might only be able to pull off two. I'd like to do at least one ballet one (to show that I'm not just a tapper -- then again, I'm definitely stronger in tap than ballet and I don't want the ballet videos to suffer artistically because of my lack of ability).

Talking of choreography, I've been wanting to make a longer story-show for a while now. Like maybe a half-hour to an hour of dance that somehow follows a cohesive story or at least a theme. I'm not sure how to approach it or what exactly to tackle, but I would really love to do something like this at some point in my life -- why not lay some groundwork for it now? I've already begun work on this a bit -- choreographing the first side of Daniel Amos' phenomenal album Doppelgänger as a long(ish)-form work to start.

I want to make a proper memorial dance for M. Ideally I would also like to actually have the opportunity to stage it (still haven't been able to stage Brittney's, my cousin's, or my grandpa's...).

I want to start doing more live (dance) performances. Right now I'm thinking competitions, coffeehouses, talent shows, et cetera (in addition to the one college recital). Just to get more audience response to my performance and choreography so I can see what needs to improve. Plus it'll keep me comfortable with live performance as opposed to the safety net of video editing.

I want to continue working on my flexibility. I feel less tight than usual (overall), but so far it's not translating into actual flexibility. This is still my greatest hindrance as a performer. Not just as a dancer, as a performer, full stop. I have had theatre directors pass over me even though I'm technically excellent, fairly expressive, and relatively strong simply because I'm not flexible. I'm so so close to my left front split and it's absolutely driving me crazy that I can't get those last two inches (I've been stuck there since probably about late September/early October).

I need to work on allegro more. I have some level of natural gifting for it, but I don't push myself in it nearly enough. It's hard to get up that much energy when practicing by oneself.

I also want to work on my wings (in tap), both single and double-foot. I'm decent at them actually... what I need is stamina. On that topic, I want to work on my stamina in general. It's MUCH better than it was when I started college (I couldn't even get through the first side of the Intermediate port de bras without literally collapsing), but it's still not great. Again, if I would actually just do allegro instead of avoiding it all the time...

I'm realising lately that I have a lot of mental tension around dance, of all things. I think at least part of the reason I don't push myself in allegro a lot (*cough* at all) is because I'm not confident I'm doing everything correctly (which is why I need dance classes with actual teachers, not just self-directed practice...), so 1. I'm scared I'll get incorrect technique in my muscle memory, and 2. I'm scared I'll injure myself. The one and only dance injury that ever actually sidelined me (ankle) happened during allegro. I'm also starting to wonder if mental tension is at least part of the plateau in my stretching. I notice during one stretch in particular that I can push myself farther without pain, but when I do, I just really, really dislike how it feels in my body -- so much that I actually feel slightly sick -- so I ease off it. So far I've only noticed it in that one stretch (on only one side... the other side I can push it fine), but maybe there are others I haven't clued into yet.

Regarding voice...
It's hard to set goals here. I still know very little about singing and what I should expect of myself. What's reasonable? What do I even want? I don't know. Until very recently, my only goal was to not suck. Now that I'm getting past that point, I don't really know what's next. I'd kind of like to learn more opera and musical theatre (mostly to challenge my acting skills, actually -- since I don't really know what to strive for in actual sound/technique).

And piano...
Oh yes, by the way, I started piano this past semester and absolutely fell in love with it. I took one semester at the beginning of my college career in 2013, but I was too angry and tense and perfectionistic and easily frustrated to enjoy it so of course I didn't really get anywhere in my abilities. Now I'm in a better place to receive the joy that playing piano brings me. I really just want to learn as much as I can. I just get lost in playing, and before I know it, a whole hour will have slipped by. The only other thing I have EVER done that with is dance.
Over Christmas break I've gone through my sister's earlier piano rep (she's a few grades ahead of me) and pulled out probably about a dozen songs that I feel are around or not insanely far above my current level of playing. I'm trying to think of a piece that I can set as a reasonable goal for the end of the year that won't be too easy for me to get by April, but also won't still be completely out of reach by November. I feel like I don't have enough of a sense of my growth trajectory yet to really make any solid long-term plans here so for now I'm just trying to take this a few pieces at a time, while consistently challenging myself.

Writing...
Of course I'd like to do NaNoWriMo in 2019 as well, but I'll ponder that more after graduation (I usually start percolating ideas around June).

I want to continue work on Kyrie. I had some momentum on it before NaNoWriMo this year, and it actually influenced my NaNoWriMo novel quite a bit because I couldn't quite get out of Kyrie brain during November (at one point during the month I said 'this novel is basically Kyrie but less good').

Theatre...
Basically the plan at the moment is 'audition for ALL the things!' I'm currently lining up my audition schedule for the next few months (I have one next week) and I have to say, I am VERY excited.
I want to work on my acting skills. I don't quite know how that looks yet. I'm trying to figure something out, but it's hard when I don't really know what the goal actually is, or even how you 'practice' acting.

Goals for life in general... These are the ones that are hardest to attain. The performing/artistic ones can be so easily incorporated into a schedule -- go to a practice room/studio for a few hours. But these are harder -- 98% of my life is wrapped up in the arts, so to do anything outside of it feels clunky and unnatural (well -- more clunky and unnatural than my artistic endeavours).

The biggest one is keep in contact with my friends.
This is a hard one. Due to depression, the way I was raised, and the way I was treated by my peers during my teen years, I have this deep-seated belief that nobody has time for me (and this belief is strong in my mind whether I'm in a good headspace or not). People have better things to do than spend time with me. So 99% of the time I don't even try to initiate contact with other people, even my closest friends. I'm terrified I'm going to wear out my welcome and then I'll be truly friendless, and I don't ever want to go back there again. I'd rather have a 'friend' that I'm too scared to talk to than overdo the talking and end up with no friends at all.
I think a subgoal of this might be to quit apologising that I'm spending time with them on the rare occasion that I actually do convince myself to spend time with them.

The other one is to not move back home immediately after graduating.
As much as I love my family and my friends at home and my home dance school and the city and the landscape, I don't dare go back too soon and settle back into my pre-college rut. I did that after I graduated with my Associate in 2015 and it almost literally killed me -- I had a $60,000 degree that I was doing literally nothing with and I was living the same dead-end life that I had before I went to college. I wound up feeling like my life was a waste and that I was a waste. There's an overpass I drive over on the commute from my home dance school and I cannot even count how many times over that next year I almost pulled over and jumped onto the busy highway below. Knowing this, I need to make a life for myself outside of both home and school, at least for a time. Once I know that I can survive on my own without school to set my routine, maybe I will end up back around home, closer to my family. But if I do it too soon, all the growth and excitement of what I've been learning out on my own in college will fizzle and I'll dead-end again. And that's so dangerous for me. I need to keep forward momentum, and I won't be able to do that if I move back home immediately after graduation.

I need to nail down my 'why.' Why do I perform? Why do I keep practicing? Why do I do this? 'Because I love it' is a good start, but I'm not convinced that it's really enough (it sure isn't when I'm struggling to motivate myself to practice an allegro that I know nobody will ever see me do). That reason seems inherently selfish to me, so I feel guilty about it. Which of course makes me second-guess myself which makes me tense and frustrated which of course means I continue to suck at performing. I need a strong reason to keep slogging through when it's tough. I am definitely the type of person who absolutely WILL NOT do something unless you can give me an extremely good reason to do it/do it this way. 'Because I said so' has never worked on me, even as a kid. 'Because it'll make this easier/sound better/look better/give you a better foundation for what's to come' resonates with me. Tell me why and I'll do it gladly. But so far I haven't been able to tell myself on the hard days why I do this. I love it. I do. I have never known joy like the joy I (usually) have during performance runs. But somehow that doesn't feel like a good enough reason, and it's keeping me hesitant.

03 January 2019

Day 3 - National Choreography Month

Accidentally started working on DA's 'Mall (All Over The World)' so I guess that's what we're starting with this year.

As longtime readers know, Doppelgänger is one of my favourite albums of all time. It's a concept album largely about the sins of the church and their effect on society, which of course is something dear to my heart. I've always wanted to do a show centering around this music, and this year on my many long commutes between Alberta and Saskatchewan listening to this album I've started to piece it together.

I've already choreographed a couple of cuts from this album and I'm working at joining them into a cohesive whole. But my current piece is entirely new (tap) choreography.

It's an ensemble dance of course (large groups is what I do best), but I'm trying not to make it too complex visually. I'm taking some thematic inspiration from Steve Taylor's brilliantly incisive 'I Want To Be A Clone' -- repetitive movements, loud bashing, the march of progress and society drowning out any dissenting voices. Cloneliness is next to godliness, right?

However, I do need it to be aurally intriguing, and that's what I suck at.