Splitting the self

Sometimes I catch the sight of a young woman in an office window wearing the same khaki jacket I did when I was 19. To look more closely, one would see a flicker behind the eyes of a screwed up face; some gaunt and ghostly figure who stalks the streets. That 19-year-old me still follows me — Oh I’m sure the Freudian girls and other mystics I’ve known would have something to say.

But her irregular hauntings keep me in line. Remind me I’m not a cup of hot chocolate for other people to enjoy. She who brushes with hunched figures in the night; who needs a high of crisp city air to lift her head off the pillow. Maybe a few people must love me, but not for the things I know. The bony edges of my touch; the dirt on my sleeve. All the little things, in passing, that make me sick to behold. 

Sometimes she visits in sleep. Her face looks softer. I feel her hot tears on my own cheeks. Toss and turn in her betrayal. Fast-forward to June, 2011. Together we watch a bank robbery in a round security camera. I wait for her to notice the jacket in the footage, raise her arm and say, “But that’s me.”

Still I wake up, day after day, wondering if I felt the hand reach into my back pocket and take my identity; or if I imagined it afterward, only when I realized what happened to me.

In fields I wait

Sunshine, won’t you kiss life into these cold lips

and bring a veil of orange veins to these eyes.

I’ve been waiting for you to do just this.

You see, I could lie here all day in your arms

and watch as you turn trembling blues

into bitten reds.

Marry the greens with a papery yellow

and paint the world a stubborn ochre

with the flick of a brush fire.

Sweet sun,

won’t you raise the tobacco to fold at my knees

and the grass to trace at my hips.

Push the breeze’s dirty secrets through my long, dark hair.

I’ll tell you mine.

When it’s over,

raise me a God of of spindly willow and strong oak

to tend to me while I lie here in wait.

His fingertips: cigarettes.

His palms stained clementine.

Smells of whiskey and wet clay.

I could lie here all day in his shadow you made;

fertile as the soil beneath and twice as tall.

Waiting for the next chance to steal your kisses,

feel new and love wildly,

just one more time.

Saying “No” to a conversation with someone

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A bathing suit I saw once. It reads, “So many fuck boys.” 😉

In the past week, I had to draw a new line for myself.

Simply put, I will not engage with men who are seeking my emotional support if they have shown attraction to me in the past. This is especially true of those men who I am not friends with; those acquaintances or old flings I no longer talk to, but who have acquired a spot on my Facebook or Instagram feeds. People who I would not go to if I had a problem of my own.

I have a few reasons for drawing this line. One, is that I am in a relationship with someone. There are certain boundaries I need to set for those who I know had a thing for me, and are acting like they still aren’t over it. I do this out of respect for myself and also for my partner.

The second is that, I now know what emotional manipulation looks like. I owe this insight to a friend of mine, actually, who walked me through the last time a dude dumped his emotional baggage into a Facebook chat window. He told me that if someone genuinely needed help, that person wouldn’t turn to an old fling they no longer talk to. That it is not my responsibility to care for the feelings of everybody who seeks my attention. He reassured me that this is especially true when I get the heeby jeebies about someone’s feelings for me.

There’s one last reason for deciding not to engage in emotionally taxing conversations with men who are 1) not my friend in a give-and-take sense, and 2) attracted to me. It’s that, I have my own friends who I would do anything for. I have my own life, filled with many problems I also need to face. I am not anyone’s counsellor or by any means a mental health professional, but I show up for my friends. For my partner. For my family.

If anyone is going to suck my energy *away* from those three things, then they’re straight-up engaging in emotional manipulation. They’re pulling me away from the safety of those I care about and those who care about me. They’re keeping me up late on my phone when I have to wake up for an 8-4 job. In a sense, they’re digging their way in and isolating me. Really, it’s just fuck-boy nonsense.

You see, I have to draw a line somewhere here. So I have drawn it here.

Drink it in

I’m known for having a sharp tongue and being exact with my words. I think deeply. I have a quick and dirty sense of humour. I enjoy feminism and other forms of critical thought.

I am also sensitive and cry easily, so naturally, the former qualities are only becoming on someone like me when I’m winning whatever argument I’m in. And, as it turns out, winning an argument does not make a better feminist. So it begs the question: who is it all for?

Anyway, to spare you the healing and therapy sessions, I’ll skip to the end: it took some time, distance, and a good deal of growing to detach myself from my wicked temper and  more combative instincts.

I am by no means perfect nor completely pacifist by nature, but I feel much better than I did before. People like me more. I know now that my strength and influence stem from the fact that I am as raw as I am soft.

When I see my people engaging in those lengthy, emotionally-taxing debates online, I see hurt. I see youth. I see a long list of vocabulary words rehearsed and researched in private, to use in the next arena. I don’t see much experience. I wish I saw more reflection. Deeper breaths. A willingness to let go. Some self-preservation would be nice.

But those things only come to those who are healed; those who are likely 25 and over. People who have have found peace, and not just pieces of mind to share. Indeed, telling a 20-year-old who has just experienced her first abusive relationship to take a deep breath and walk away from her newest online opponents will only spiral into another debate on silencing. I get it. I’m not here to recommend complacency in the face of oppression.

What I want to say though, with all my heart, to those young feminists who are hurting and sparring online: 

Don’t think for a single second believe that your softness isn’t progressive and strong. You are every part the revolution. You matter. Take a minute. Drink it in. Then re-evaluate what it is you want to say. 

A small, dark thought about mass shootings in America

The most chilling truth I’ve ever met came in the form of a small, dark thought my professor shared with us about how to prevent mass shootings in America:

That if everyone knew, if everyone saw what an assault rifle does to the body of an 8-year-old, gun control would have been implemented long ago.

This small, dark thought stuck with me.

Now, whenever I read a headline that a group of young people — almost always minorities, women, and children — were killed by a lone male shooter with an assault rifle, I freeze at the word assault rifle.

For a moment, it clenches my stomach and stops my heart.

People who tend

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“I put in the work,” he said. “I put in the work.”

Thick Irish accent, like something of a cliche. Cardigan and pipe. To write it down in such a way feels cheap; to leave it out would be dishonest. He was a retired Irish professor with a farm in Australia. I visited sometimes.

“I put in the work so that I could watch everything around me spoil the minute I stopped tending. I wish I did like you. That I took up exploring.”

I wanted to know what I should study in university. He didn’t provide me an answer.

Galahs landed on the front lawn. Big pink and grey things. The dog looked on indifferently. A tractor moved slowly down the main road — the driver was riding the clutch around the corner. I remember thinking how wildlife was never this colourful back home. I decided I was going to miss Australia.

We looked out the window, drinking a strong tea. Madura, I think it was. He probably felt embarrassed at all the weeds poking through the grass while I looked on. I wasn’t one to judge though. I developed spots on my face after a stint in the hospital. I lost use of both my arms for a a few days and couldn’t wash my face. A workplace accident. My farmhand days were over for now. I was just happy to be in someone’s kitchen, with a warm ceramic cup between my palms. Some place with pictures and ornaments on the windowsill. I hadn’t been home in a year.

I took a sip of the stiff, black tea. I never put sugar in my tea when I visited him or anyone. Sweets would feel too self-indulgent especially when I was living, at the moment, by the grace of others.

“Well, at least someone’s enjoying the yard,” he laughed, watching the galahs bob their heads in and out of the pond; taking in the cool light of the winter sun.

They really did look happy.

Some of the best people I met while travelling weren’t other travelers. There were those who tended, and it mattered. The people you could settle in with for an afternoon and a conversation.

Nowadays, when I sit on my patio and look out at the city lights, I see it still matters.

I adult therefore I am

“Well that’s adulthood and you’re not there yet.”

She was talking about home ownership.

I was sitting in the back seat of her car, feeling small and pretty choked up. Age 24, being told I’m not an adult? Somehow? Despite everything?!

Oh man, it almost reduced me to toddler-sized tears. (I also decided I was never accepting a ride from these people ever again. I get around in my city just fine.)

At age 18, I backpacked Australia on my own dime; milking cows for money and relying on the kindness of those strangers with couches and outhouses. The experience was humbling and I learned a lot. Age 19: I returned to Canada and I started university far away from my hometown, sans student loan or parental support. Age 20 was a lot of minimum wage jobs. The past few years have been good to me. I’ve been able to find work in my field. My desk has a view of parliament. I finish my degree this year.

The people closest to me might remember the nights I spent in ER from throwing my back out to the point I could barely move; literally from stress, workplace injuries, and not getting a break. At one point, I was working three jobs and going to school full-time. One doctor, after treating me multiple times for anxiety, infections, and back spasms, wrote me a doctor’s note for “time off.” I feel accomplished in my adult life, though I wouldn’t wish my struggle on anyone. To be honest, I’m still a little bitter about it.

Being told I’m not an adult? I knew it wasn’t true — I knew this right down to my core — but it still fucking stung. Especially since this comment came from someone dating a family member, who should technically know me. Also, I shouldn’t even feel like I have to justify all the ways I am an adult (although it’s my natural inclination to do so, because I am still a flawed and sometimes emotionally defensive human being, hence this blog post).

But there are so many think-pieces on millennial entitlement, etc. it’s hard not to believe the hype that every 20-year-old is actually a lamb in wolf’s clothing. Further, being an adult “in the traditional sense” (or whatever) is such a culture-specific, nebulous thing at the best of times. So I don’t know what these writers are on about; the majority of those articles are pretty self-serving, dripping in off-brand salt, and lacking nuance.

I don’t know who this person thought she was to tell me I’m not an adult.

My goal is to live life well; which may or may not involve home ownership, marriage, or having children. Those things have nothing to do with my maturity or ambition. I’m a competitive person who thrives on lived experiences, friendship, and my independence. I take a lot of pride in my education, my job, my travels, my apartment, and my relationship. I imagine I feel good about these things for the simple reason that, at some point, I felt challenged but was able to overcome. I might enjoy parenthood one day, but given my career trajectory, I know that right now it’s not for me. I don’t know where I want to “settle” (if I ever do) so buying a house is a no-go. But that’s okay. My life is filled with good people and I’m pretty okay. I’ve lived a good life and I’m proud of who I’ve become. 

But such is living that things aren’t always coming up roses, either. I’ve also known hardship, failure, and loss; and those blows have grounded me and made me more mature. I totally flunked the majority of job interviews I’ve ever done. Heartbreak is the reason I treat people better now than I did. When I’m at a friend’s place, I take my cup to the sink and I rinse it out. I hurt sometimes, but I get better every year. 

All in all, the past quarter-century, I’ve grown to feel like an adult. I imagine this feeling of adulthood, which for me feels a lot like responsibility and kindness owed, will deepen with more experiences and time.  

Adulthood doesn’t have to be more grandiose than that.

Sure, some experiences — like taxes and marriage — come naturally to adults. I know that marriage is an adult experience. But it’s not the only one. And most people don’t do their own taxes, anyway.

Are you taking care of your own shit, to the best of your ability? You’re an adult. Then again,  if you’re living in the adult world on your own accord, you probably already know you’re a goddamn adult.

To sum it up, my point is this: if anyone tries to tell you that you’re not an adult even though you’re like, 20-something and know you’re pulling it off just fine, or just pulling it off, you can tell them to royally fuck off. Cut those people out of your life. They’re not here for you. They haven’t noticed and don’t care about your growth. You have your own things to worry about.

Like finishing that novel or auditioning for that play. Taking a language class. Visiting your mom one of these weekends (or one of these years). Getting a new job because your current supervisor doesn’t appreciate your value. Maybe you want to make a move to a downtown apartment. Today could be laundry day, but you’re on it.

Sincerely, I think you’re doing great.